30 Nov 2011

Huntly mine danger greatly exaggerated - company

9:26 pm on 30 November 2011

Solid Energy says the danger from a gas build-up at the Huntly East coal mine is being greatly exaggerated.

Three separate investigations have begun - by the company, the main mining union the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, and the Department of Labour - into how methane in the mine reached an explosive level three weeks ago.

Methane gas at the mine spiked to potentially dangerous levels on November 11 when workers hit a geological fault. It took five days to vent the gas out.

An international mine safety expert, David Feickert, says both the gas build-up and the breach of procedures sound very serious and may have put miners at risk.

But Solid Energy says talk of a near miss is a gross exaggeration.

The company's chief operating officer, Barry Bragg, told Checkpoint there was never any chance of an explosion because as soon as the methane concentration passed 1.25%, all the systems shut down correctly, meaning there were no sources of ignition.

Two experienced miners have been stood down while they are investigated in connection with the breach.

The Department of Labour says it has issued an improvement notice to the mine relating to its ventilation management.

The department says an inspector will be following up its order to Solid Energy at its Huntly East mine on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Solid Energy says it is trying to find the source of safety complaints about the Huntly East coal mine.

Several sources have been reported as describing the state-owned underground mine as a time bomb and like Pike River before it exploded.

Mr Bragg says his staff have been going through the miners one by one about the allegations but he says it is not a witchhunt.

He says there is no threat of any action and the company simply wants to get to the bottom of their concerns.