7 Dec 2016

Pike River: Solid Energy hits back at re-entry claims

9:11 pm on 7 December 2016

An open letter from Solid Energy says it is reckless for uninformed people to claim Pike River Mine can be safely re-entered.

The company has been coming under increasing pressure from protesters over its plans to seal the mine.

Families of the Pike River dead protest at the sealing of the mine

Families of the Pike River victims have been protesting the sealing of the mine in recent weeks. Photo: Emma Daly

Some of the families of the 29 men who died after an explosion in the mine in 2010 are opposing the mine being sealed, and have been holding ongoing protests at the entrance.

The open letter was today published in the New Zealand Herald, and will be in other newspapers over this week. It can be read on Solid Energy's website here.

No one from Solid Energy was available for an interview, but in the letter it said in November 2014, after a thorough assessment of the safety of re-entry, a decision was made that it was too dangerous and could not be made safe.

It said there has been no improvements in the conditions in the drift since the decision was made that re-entry was too dangerous.

The letter said "out of respect for all those involved we wish we could continue quietly getting on with the job - acknowledged by the families back in November 2014 as the safest course of action - to seal the drift and hand over the mine to DOC.

"That was a decision made on the basis of rigourous assessment and careful consideration. Nothing has changed to alter that decision. It is reckless of those who are not in possession of the full facts, and have no legal responsibility for the lives of those who would be put at risk, to claim otherwise."

Solid Energy specifically drew attention to seven points which it believed had been misrepresented.

It said it was wrong to say inspection of the drift was a safe and straightforward procedure. It said the drift was a 2.3km uphill trek, requiring a breathing apparatus, under an unstable tunnel roof on ground strewn with debris.

It said the foreseeable risks escalated as the distance from the portal increased.

Solid Energy also said there were claims that the techniques being used to make the drift safe for sealing could be applied for full drift re-entry.

It said as part of the sealing process it de-gassed 10m of the 2.3km tunnel in a complex, tightly monitored and managed operation conducted within weather windows for helicopter operations and for barometric pressure stability.

Solid Energy also said suggestions it was sealing the mine because it had something to hide or was colluding with the government in a cover-up were farcical.

It said it did not own the mine at the time of the explosions, and had nothing to hide.

Protest getting a reaction - Monk

Bernie Monk, the spokesperson for some of the Pike River families, said the letter showed that Solid Energy was worried about the protests.

Bernie Monk's son, Michael Monk, was one of the 29 men who died in the mine.

"Furthermore it is telling me that they don't want to communicate with us properly in the manner that we have asked for," said Mr Monk. "I think it is great that they are explaining it to the families and the public as a whole, but it still doesn't draw away from us knowing that this job can be done."

Mr Monk said he wanted Solid Energy to step aside so the families' expert could put forward a substitute way to safely re-enter the mine.

Marion Curtin's son, Richard Holling, was another of the men who died in the mine, but she did not support the protests over the sealing of the mine.

She was not willing to do an interview, but confirmed she wanted her son's remains undisturbed.

In a statement she said she had never wanted re-entry into the mine for reasons of safety and cost, let alone sacrilege and futility.

Ms Curtin said her son's remains were at Pike River, but not his spirit.

She also defended outgoing Prime Minister John Key, saying he had never promised to recover the bodies, only that what could be done, would be done.

Today one of the prime minister's would-be replacements, Judith Collins, said the work to seal the mine should continue, and the site should be dedicated as a memorial tomb.

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