Pike River mining approach inadequate: geologists

Geologists have labelled Pike River Coal’s approach to mine geology inadequate, on the third day of the Royal Commission inquiry.

Jane Newman, a geologist from Newman Research Energy, told the Commission the miner’s geological database was ‘sketchy’, according to The Press.

Continuing from her testimony yesterday, where she told the panel she been contracted by Pike River Coal (PRC) to co-ordinate a study into acid mine drainage risks.

According to Newman, in 2006 a former student of hers who was employed by PRC raised concerns about ‘complexities’ appearing at the mine.

Newman recommended investigation and research into these anomalies, but the miner failed to follow up her suggestions.

”I did become concerned that I was being asked to make statements I considered poorly founded,” she said.

”It felt to me I was endorsing an approach to the geology that I considered – I’ll try to put this the polite way – inadequate.”

A tight budget at the mine meant research, such as extra drill holes and extra training recommended by Newman were not carried out, the NZ Herald reported.

She went on to say that she was “not confident” that PRC realised there was sandstone in the seam near the longwall.

The drilling used – in-seam drilling- was not designed for identifying sandstone, she said.

This type of drilling can fail to identify sandstone, which could result in trapped methane gases being released.

Newman’s testimony comes ahead of Harry Bell, the former chief mining inspector, who will review the dropping of independent mine inspectors more than a decade ago.

Yesterday, Solid Energy head Don Elder was accused of trying to devalue the mine prior to the accident, so that Solid could acquire it.

He was also questioned over three safety incidents as Solid’s Spring Creek mine soon after the Pike River disaster.

These safety lapses included front-end loader catching fire and a machine backing over cables.

Elder took time in his testimony to criticise PRC’s seam and geological investigations, saying the miner’s production delays and under-performance placed pressure on the company.

He also stated that mining had caused a roof to collapse at the site, releasing a quantity of trapped gas from the seam.

‘You need to have a highly-skilled set of eyes and expertise to be able to really anticipate the way that gas might come up and the way to effectively ventilate the mine.”

Poor ventilation and inadequate safety measures have been blamed as contributing factors to the tragedy.

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