Update on Pike River

  • By Les McCracken

The NZ government has established an agency to oversee recovery efforts at the Pike River mine after an explosion on 19 November 2010 killed 29 men.

On 21 February 2018, the government’s Pike River Recovery Agency took over the Pike River assets on the West Coast of the South Island from Solid Energy, which entered the final stages of liquidation in March 2018.

The agency will maintain the mine infrastructure and manage ongoing mine safety while work on re-entry is undertaken.  NZ $7.6m per annum over three years has been allocated for the agency’s work.

The planning phase of the project will commence with the appointment of expert contractors, an assessment of the risks and development of a plan to re-enter the mine and recover the drift.  Several experts who submitted proposals are currently being considered for appointment.

The Pike River tragedy was an important issue with the Labour/Green alliance and NZ First in the build-up to the September 2017 NZ general election.

With the Labour – Greens – NZ First coalition eventually forming the new government, a senior minister, Andrew Little, was appointed to the post of Minister for Pike River Re-entry.  Little announced the formation of the agency on 20 November 2017, with its formal establishment taking place on 31 January 2018.  The agency has been tasked with investigating what happened in the 2010 disaster and the possibility of manned re-entry of the mine’s drift. The bodies of the 29 men killed are still trapped in the mine.

Progress in forming the new agency has been rapid with Major General Dave Gawn appointed as Chief Executive in late December 2017 and Kevin Pattinson appointed as Chief Operating Officer in February 2018.  Michelle Wessing was announced as the Chief of Staff in March 2018.

The report of the subsequent inquiry revealed a combination of errors within the design and operation of the mine, the failure of government regulatory authorities to effectively inspect the mine, inadequacies in the regulations covering coal mines and shortfalls in industry training requirements for safety-critical roles.

The government of the day accepted all 16 of the commission’s recommendations and sweeping changes were made to the regulations and the training of those holding safety-critical roles in the mining and quarrying industry.

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