Pike River: Why are we going back in?


Andrew Little either does not read Whaleoil, or he is ignoring the reasoning and logic in my post last week regarding the futility of going back into the Pike River Mine because he has gone ahead and signed off on a plan outlining three possible re-entry optionsQuote:

One of the options would include building a new two-metre by two-metre tunnel, about 200 metres long, to the Pit Bottom in Stone area.
The remaining two options include drilling a large diameter borehole and re-entering the main drift as it is with no secondary exit.
The Agency will continue to develop the three proposals.  End of quote.

Fabulous, he is pushing ahead with this foolhardy body recovery mission. We know already that costs are expected to reach $35 million dollars which is an increase of $12 million, more than 50%, of the cost of the initial estimate of $23 million just 8 months ago.

Like death by a thousand cuts, we can expect that costs will continue to balloon. If we were told up-front that the total recovery effort would cost $200 million dollars, I suspect that would cause outrage and people would be demanding an immediate end to this nonsense.  But as it is, the cost is bumped up incrementally, $23 million here, another $12 million there, and before we know it, the total cost will be horrific and completely disproportionate to the original $23 million we all reluctantly swallowed.  For clarity, the $200 million is just a number I plucked out of the air, to make my point that we need to consider the total cost.

So what can we realistically expect to pay? Well according to our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Quote:

“[…] cost shouldn’t be an issue.  “Of course we’re going to act responsibly. Safety is top of mind. But you cannot put a price on someone’s life and their family member’s ability to have closure. […]”  End of quote.

She is effectively committing this current government to a bottomless pit of funding.

And here’s why.  Bernie Monk, who has been a vocal agitant for the body recovery effort had this to say back in 2012 on the first anniversary of the disaster.  Quote:

[…] they would continue to grieve in limbo until the bodies still trapped behind a rock fall in Pike River were returned to them, he said. […]  End of quote.

And here’s Carol Rose, who lost her son Stuart Mudge at Pike River.  Quote:

[…] she cannot get any closure until a body is returned to her family.[…]  End of quote.

Based on those three statements above, I don’t see an end to this folly, which may yet result in further death or injury.

So why are we in this position of going back into the mine at all? Call me cynical if you like, but this is nothing more than a political stunt.

Back in April 2017, in the lead up to the general election, footage was leaked to the families and to media. It was sensationalised, claiming it was dramatic new footage that showed men working inside the mine.  You can view the story here.

As was quite rightly pointed out at the time by Audrey Young, it was indeed, recklessly misleading.  Quote:

The Sunday night airing of footage of a robot in the Piker River Mine drift along with two Mines Rescue personnel was recklessly misleading.

It has almost certainly led to further distress for Pike River families who may have believed something had happened in the drift that had never happened before.

The sequence of footage and commentary left the clear impression that rescuers had gone deep into the drift safely.

It showed a robot going 1.57km into the tunnel, passing a couple of obstacles at least 800m in, breaking down and then being fixed by Mines Rescue personnel deep inside the mine until it came upon a loader and could go no further.

It is possible those running the footage on Newshub didn’t know what they were looking at, and either made assumptions or decided to create an impression.

That worked very well. It left a false impression that Mines Rescue had been far deeper into the mine than anybody had ever known. […]

[…] The police fuelled the cock-up theory by confusing the footage and the robot (there have been five robots and more than 30 hours of video), leaving the impression valuable images had been deliberately withheld from the families and the Royal Commission of inquiry.  End of quote.

It didn’t stop there.  In June 2017, more footage was obtained by Newshub that was taken from borehole number 44 back in January 2011, which showed that wooden pallets and rubber hoses were intact in the mine.  This was supposed to call a lie to claims of a raging inferno within the mine.  Quote:

“The video clearly confirms absence of fire damage. The stability of the mine at that location also does not appear to have been compromised,” he told Newshub.

Mr Rockhouse’s mother Sonya says it proves what officials told the families in 2010 was wrong.  End of quote.

Actually, it does nothing of the sort.  Nick Smith addresses Sonya’s claim.  Quote:

[…] Dr Nick Smith, acting Conservation Minister for Pike River issues, said the expert reports never claimed the entire mine was an inferno.

“There is nothing in the film released that changes anything in the technical reports. None of them claimed that every corner of the mine was burnt to a cinder,” he said.

“It would only be possible for there to be fire where there was both the presence of methane, oxygen and a source of ignition.”[…]  End of quote.

This map shows the location of borehole 44.  It is at the furthest reaches of the mine

Location of borehole 44

Even more emotive was the suggestion that the video may have revealed a pair of glasses on the floor of the mine. Ben Rockhouse, who was thought to be working in the area of the borehole 44 footage wore glasses, and his mother is convinced these belong to her son.

The following comparison was made between a photo of Ben with glasses, and a still from the video footage as below:

UK Mines Rescue consultant Mr Robinson said it’s possible the glasses belong to Ben.

Then there was the footage where Mines Rescue workers discussed whether or not they could see movement, when they lowered a camera into the slimline ventilation shaft, which is at the mine end of the drift.  This footage is important because it was taken just four days after the 1st explosion, and immediately before the 2nd explosion, which effectively ended any hope of rescue.

The lead in to the news story says “the picture quality is poor but the sound is clear.”  You would think from that introduction that the sound would be of what was supposedly heard moving, but actually, the sound they are referring to is the voices of the Mines Rescue workers speculating about whether or not they could see movement.  Within the same video, it was admitted that the movement they may or may not have seen, might have just been water.

What I have concluded from everything I have seen and read about the new information that came to light last year, is that it actually concludes nothing, and does not make a compelling case for re-entry. It is also clear that the Royal Commission also had all of this information available to them whilst conducting their Inquiry.

But 2017 was an election year, and on 15th August, Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and United Future signed a pledge to set up an agency to take over and re-enter Pike River Mine. New Zealand First had already committed to re-entry.  National called it out for the political stunt that it was at the time.

When the coalition government was formed, re-entry to Pike River Mine was agreed, and this foolhardy promise became a reality. On 20th November 2017, Jacinda Ardern announced the establishment of the Pike River Recovery Agency to work towards the manned re-entry of the Pike River drift. The budget was initially set at $7.6 million dollars per year for three years, or $23 million in total.  That has since been revised to $35 million.

Do you remember the fuss about the flag referendum and the $26 million dollar price tag? I do. Voters bitched and moaned, and then complained some more about the cost of the referendum. Whatever your personal views on the flag referendum, it had a finite cost, which allowed every voter a democratic choice in something that affected us all as a nation. And still, they moaned.

Yet here we are, preparing to spend at least $35 million dollars to re-enter the grave of 29 men.

This is expressly against the wishes of some of the family members, as acknowledged by Bernie Monk.

It is expressly against the wishes of Marion Curtin, the mother of Richard Holling, who was killed in the disaster.  Quote:

[…] Marion Curtin said she felt compelled to speak out as the protest escalated against the sealing of the Pike River mine.

Not all families shared the views or condoned the actions of those who were the most vocal, she said.

“I’m appalled and embarrassed.” […]

[…] “I want my son to remain undisturbed,” she said. “We have never wanted re-entry into the mine for reasons of safety and cost, let alone sacrilege and futility. His remains are there, his spirit is not.”[…]

[…] The relentless push and strident talk by some families and supporters for re-entry into the drift only compounded the grief and distress for others.[…]  End of quote.

Why are we doing this?  It needs to stop now.


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