Pike river recovery costs: Take the original estimate and triple it

Cabinet minister Andrew Little and representatives of the families of the men killed in the Pike River mine disaster have walked into the mine’s portal. (Photo / Facebook)

The original estimate for the Pike River Recovery Agency (Agency) operation to enter the mine was $23 million.

Costs continue to rise as the Agency decides where to place a new access tunnel to recover the bodies of the 29 miners who perished in 2010.

The only positive aspect of this whole process is the creation of jobs within the Agency for people skilled in the mining industry where New Zealand specialists have either disappeared overseas or sought alternative employment. Quote.

Pike River Recovery Agency has spent $2.5 million in its first financial year, including nine staff paid more than $100,000 a year.

And its boss warns that re-entering the West Coast coal mine, the site of a 2010 explosion that cost 29 lives, might cost millions of dollars more than its original $23 million budget, as the complexities of the operation become apparent.

Unaudited figures released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act show the agency’s biggest operational expense to June 30 was $749,000 for its 13 fixed term staff, and $524,000 for consultants and contractors. Its 14th staff member, senior project manager, Lloyd Steward, started on Monday. End of quote.

A progress report on re-entering the damaged Pike River coal mine was given by the Agency’s chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson to delegates at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) New Zealand’s 2018 conference in Tauranga this month. Pattinson is well suited for the role with the Agency as he is experienced in mining and a member of NZ Mines Rescue.  NZ Resources summarised Pattinson’s presentation: quote.

The quest, he said, would be to recover where possible the remains of the 29 miners who perished in a methane blast eight years ago.

The agency was set up by the Coalition Government and Pattinson said it would be disestablished once the site has been rehabilitated and returned to the Department of Conservation.

He told delegates it was highly desirable to get a second means of egress into the mine and his presentations detailed several targets well away from the existing damaged portal. These locations perhaps could give more direct access deeper into the drift where the remains of most of the men would be.

Specialist equipment will require vehicle access in the mine tunnel, and some additional boreholes will be required. Nitrogen would also be needed to purge the drift of methane.

The second portal could involve a 2 metre by 2 metre tunnel.

Pattinson said the second tunnel option would require detailed field inspection and site survey. Linked to this would be a geotechnical assessment of surrounding slopes, the portal area and tunnel.

There would also need to be hydrological and flood level assessments of the Pike stream.

Preliminary work has included the nitrogen plant contract being confirmed, with a plant expected on site on October 1; creation of emergency remote portal doors for which fabrication was underway; re-establishing electricity next month; and upgrade of helipads and access bridges, yet to be designed.” End of quote.

The report highlights the same topographical and geological problems that hindered Pike River Mine operations, necessitating additional capital raisings in order for the company to continue its work. The very same issues are facing the Agency, along with the six metre per annum rainfall for the area, meaning stream levels can rise metres in a couple of hours.

The report offers a choice between two tunnel options, neither are particularly attractive because of the steep and difficult terrain typical of the area.  Image 1 below shows the Paparoa seam that Pike River Coal was working.  Image 2 shows the layout of the mine and the existing tunnel entrance.  The Agency’s two tunnel options are located in the steep gullies below the Paparoa seam.

Image 1: Paparoa ranges showing the Paparoa seam Photo Credit habitatadvocate.co.au

Image 2: Pike River Mine layout Photo Credit whatsonxiamen.com

The Agency hopes to have a recovery recommendation for the minister by the end of October. It would be fair to say that any option will be very expensive, and probably slow, because of the safety measures needed and the possibility of intersecting bad ground conditions like water-filled faults and shear zones.

Allowing for unexpected ground conditions, inclement weather and the known issues around drilling and tunnelling the area, mining pundits estimate costs could be upwards of $65 million, perhaps even more.

Just how much money does Andrew Little have to spend before common sense kicks in?


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