New Zealand Plans Pike River Mine Entry 3 Years After Disaster

New Zealand’s government will pay for a plan to re-enter the Pike River coal mine, where an explosion almost three years ago killed 29 workers in the nation’s worst mining accident in 96 years.

The proposal is for a staged exploration of the main tunnel at the site near Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island, Energy Minister Simon Bridges said today in a statement. Teams will progress as far as a rockfall in the shaft that blocks the way to the mine workings where the men were operating at the time of the explosion.

“This is a highly complex and technical operation and it will be carefully managed in stages, with a risk assessment undertaken at each stage,” Bridges said. “Our criteria are that any re-entry into the tunnel up to the rock fall is safe, technically feasible and financially credible.”

The government will pay the estimated NZ$7.2 million ($6 million) cost of the plan, which was approved by the board of Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd., the government-owned miner that bought the site after Pike River Coal Co. went into receivership, Bridges said.

A methane-gas explosion on Nov. 19, 2010, trapped and probably killed the 29 workers at the mine. Further blasts over the following five days frustrated efforts to reach the men, and the mine was closed because it was too dangerous to enter.

Pike River Coal was found guilty in April of nine breaches of health and safety laws including those relating to ventilation and methane management. A New Zealand court awarded victims compensation of about NZ$110,000 each in July, adding that as the company was in receivership it may be unable to make that payment.

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