9 May 2017

No basis for Pike River cover-up claims - Solid Energy

8:21 pm on 9 May 2017

Solid Energy is strongly rejecting any allegations it has been involved in a cover-up over safety issues at Pike River Mine.

Solid Energy has said a special meeting may be held to discuss whether the mine's drift can be safely re-entered.

"Nobody at Solid Energy has anything at all to hide or had any involvement in what occurred at Pike River," said its chief executive, Tony King. Photo: RNZ

Its comments follow the release of footage showing rescue workers inside the mine.

This led to claims from some relatives of the 29 men that died in the disaster in 2010 that the footage had been withheld from them, and the mine had been safe to re-enter all along.

Solid Energy chief executive Tony King said there had been a lot of comment in the media last week suggesting his company had covered up the facts about a possible safe re-entry.

But this was not true.

"Solid Energy had no involvement in Pike River or the explosion," he said.

"We only acquired the mine some two years after the event. Nobody at Solid Energy has anything at all to hide or had any involvement in what occurred at Pike River.

"So the idea that somehow today that translates into wanting to cover-up what happened has no basis. We have no motivation for wanting to cover anything up."

Mr King did not specify which allegations were made but said there had been a lot of media coverage suggesting the company had been at fault.

Watch Checkpoint with John Campbell's interview - in two parts - with Mr King this afternoon:

Manned vs unmanned re-entry

The bodies of the men who died when the mine exploded have never been recovered.

The government has pledged to try to use robots to re-enter the mine, but said it would not be safe for humans to go inside.

Some relatives insisted the footage showed that manned re-entry could be made safe.

But Solid Energy, which bought the mine off receivers for Pike River Coal in 2012, was standing by its assessment this was not the case.

"There is nothing in the footage that contradicts the decision that manned re-entry of the mine is unsafe," the company chairman, Andy Coupe, said in a statement yesterday.

"The risks around re-entry do not centre around the conditions in the first part of the drift - which is what is shown in this footage.

"As has been previously documented, the significant re-entry risks are mainly beyond the part of the drift that has been explored by robot.

"As we have also previously stated, the mines rescue workers shown in the drift are in the first few metres. This is very different to the risks associated with being deep into the drift."

Mr Coupe went on to say no one, let alone media, politicians or other commentators with no mining expertise, could credibly assert that the footage showed that re-entry into the drift, let alone the mine itself, could be done safely.

Mr Coupe also denied any suggestion that Solid Energy had been involved in any cover-up.

"We ask once again, what possible motive would there be for the directors, two of whom are based in the Australian mining industry, to take such a course of action," Mr Coupe asked.

"Frankly the allegation lacks any credibility. The mine was not owned by Solid Energy at the time of the explosions. We have absolutely nothing to hide and would have nothing to gain by being less than transparent."

Worker was about 5m inside the drift - Mines Rescue Service

Mines Rescue Service has confirmed footage broadcast by RNZ on Friday showed one of its members about 5m inside the drift in March 2011, walking back towards the robot with the camera after clearing some wire in its way.

It said a container was placed at the entrance, and the worker walked through that before entering the drift.

The service's general manager, Trevor Watts, said the furthest anyone had gone inside the drift since the final explosion was about 300m.

A member went that far in October 2014 as part of work to complete a seal about 170m inside the drift.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs