Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Where nature may win

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  • Lucy Stewart,

    Insofar as 19th century Pakeha culture produced some of the earliest labour struggles and victories in the world, I think you may be reading what James said quite unfairly there.

    It's still, at best, unnecessarily exclusionary of the non-Pakeha who were part of New Zealand then as much as now. And given that there were significantly worse mining disasters in that period than this one, I don't think we've really regressed in terms of mine safety.

    I can perceive what James might have been *trying* to say, but that's not what he *said*.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Yes, it is over an hour, but it fits with reports that SOP was to not alert the emergency services for an hour. Whether that is prudent and reasonable is a different matter entirely, particularly if you have a report from in the shaft that it's filling with gas and there appears to have been an explosion, but it doesn't jar with the other facts that are known.

    As for the Brits, I would imagine Granny told them the "over two hours, and it was the guys who survived who raised the alarm" version. Because that appears to be Granny's narrative of the events. In which case, damning the mine and its response is justified. However, given that we've accepted that it's more like an hour from explosion to notification of emergency services, and that for that to have occurred the shift management knew something was amiss, those experts may have come to a different conclusion presented with that version of the narrative.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    It’s entirely possible that human error on the part of the miners led to this tragedy. ... Maybe someone along the chain forgot to do some vital task, like close a door

    The survivor's account quoted says that the door to the compressed air bay was open and the bay was filled with gas. Assuming that it wasn't blasted open by the explosion, that points to a safety lapse. The account reads very much as though he expected the door to be closed so that the bay would not be polluted.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report

  • giovanni tiso,

    Except if you read their opinion the focus is mostly on the fact that for methane levels to rise ot that level there must have been a systemic failure in the safety systems. 'Either inadequate or inadequately monitored.' This will need to be addressed.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    I'll accept that one, and it's definitely possible. Though for a "gassy" mine, do the rules change somewhat? And would it be possible for a pocket of methane to ignite and cause a coal dust explosion?
    There are many things that can explode in a coal mine, not all of them methane gas. If it turns out that a methane explosion was caused by significant, undetected methane build-up, then someone fucked up, somehow. But we don't know. They don't know, experts or not, what happened. We've been told that Pike River had pulled men off the coal face before due to methane build-up, so some kind of monitoring must've been in place. What happened to render it ineffective? They can't possibly know, what with a) being in the UK right now, and b) nobody having been into the mine since the explosion to try and find out.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    Rachel Smalley tweeting that she has heard a third explosion reported - by helicopter pilot. Is trying to confirm.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • giovanni tiso,

    I find it curious that they would feel comfortable with giving that opinion from Australia and the UK. It could be that they felt they knew enough to be able to give it.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report

  • SteveH, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    After the blast at 3.50pm, the alarm was not raised for roughly two hours – the time it took for Daniel Rockhouse and Russell Smith to walk 2km out of the carbon monoxide-filled tunnel and alert emergency services.

    That doesn't add up. The 3 News story I linked early has a timestamp of 5:12pm (the story has been updated since, that would be the original posting time), less than 2 hours after the blast. From that story:

    5:50pm: Reports emerge of two miners leaving the mine, while 33 are still not accounted for.
    4:50pm: Emergency services begin to travel to the mine.
    3:45pm: Reports begin to emerge of an explosion at a Pike River Coal mine near Greymouth.

    The Herald story has taken the 5:50pm appearance of those two miners as the first report of the explosion, but it's clear that there were other reports before then.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Is it not possible that methane could build up extremely rapidly if it is under pressure and a hole is opened to it? Could it widen a small leak, rather like a crack in a dyke, so that a drip rapidly becomes a torrent?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    A smaller explosion, although I'd be cautious about calling any explosion underground that can be seen from a helicopter "small". No one hurt.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    Worst case scenario, but I'd never heard of Centralia until this week.

    The flames on the surface were successfully extinguished, but unbeknownst to the fire fighters, the coal continued to burn underground. Over the following weeks it rapidly migrated into the surrounding coal mines and beneath the town, causing great concern.

    Soon the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources began monitoring the fire by drilling holes into the earth to determine the extent and temperature of the fire. In retrospect, it was realized that the well-meaning workers may have unwittingly provided the fire with a natural draft by drilling these boreholes, feeding the coal’s combustion.


    The fire still burns today beneath about four hundred acres of surface land, and it’s still growing. There is enough coal in the eight-mile vein to feed the fire for up to two hundred and fifty years, but it may burn itself out in as few as one hundred years.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    That's amazing and scary, Sacha.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Rich Lock,

    Bill Bryson gives an account of visiting Centralia in his book 'a walk in the woods'. Sounds like it freaked him right out. It also inspired the town in the 'silent hill' movie adaption.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report

  • Rich Lock,

    And I don't think anyone has posted this yet: The miner's hymn

    From wiki

    The disaster is also commemorated in the hymn tune "Gresford", which is also known as "The Miners' Hymn", written by Robert Saint of Hebburn, himself also a miner.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report

  • ChrisW,

    The Listener of nominally 4Dec justifies its subscription with a good article by Rebecca MacFie on methane in the Pike River mine and the coal seam itself, and methane management in such mines. Noting that Solid Energy closed its Mt Davy mine in the same Brunner coal of high gassiness after a fatal gas outburst in 1998, having concluded it could not be mined safely.

    The article quotes several experts. In particular Murry Cave, who reviewed all the exploration data as consultant to DOC in 2001-04 when the Pike River mine was a proposal seeking consents and capital funding, that methane levels in the coal itself in the near part of the seam initially being worked are generally 10-13 cubic metres per tonne which is either high or very high gassiness depending on whose arbitrary scale you use, and above 9 is prone to sudden gas outbursts.

    Murry I know to be an excellent independent geologist very experienced in West Coast coal mining and oil exploration. He also assured me around that time that the mine would never pay, that the company was underestimating the degree of geological complexity and therefore overstating coal accessibility, extractability and net value, that there would be long delays in development and their capital costs would escalate many times over.

    All true. As it is now - $290 million development for 2 shiploads of coal, and a distressingly easy calculation on the human side too.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 851 posts Report

  • Kracklite,

    I’m reminded of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which perhaps expresses how one might feel too. To this day, you do not make jokes about the tragedy in the Great Lakes region, as many a would-be comedian has found. Another parallel is the destruction of the submarine Kursk. This is from notes written by Dmitri Kolesnikov, one of those who survived for a while in the 9th and aftmost compartment:

    It’s too dark here to write, but I’ll try by feel. It seems like there are no chances, 10-20%. Lets hope that at least someone will read this. Here’s the list of personnel from other sections, who are now in the 9th and will attempt to get out. Regards to everybody, no need to be desperate. Kolesnikov.

    He had written before the submarine departed on its mission this poem to his wife:

    When there is a time to die
    Although I try not to think about this,
    I would like time to say:
    My darling I love you.

    I don’t imagine that anyone had time.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report

  • James George,

    Those who questioned the number of inquiries when I posted that it would likely be quite a few (five) would be advised to read[ http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10689942 | Thursday's Northern fishwrap]:

    A series of high-level inquiries will be held into the Pike River mine tragedy as the families of the miners demand answers about the loss of their loved ones.

    Prime Minister John Key has indicated a commission of inquiry may be held into the deaths of the 29 miners, while police, the Department of Labour and the coroner will all examine what went wrong.

    "There is going to be a range of inquiries that will begin fairly immediately," said Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee.

    "And in the long term, of course, everyone will want to know what happened up there. It's pretty essential we find out, and the nature of how we achieve that is yet to be determined."

    (Apologies if I've got the PA protocols wrong)

    Hadn't seen this until a few minutes ago, Brownlee has taken this play straight out of the " ministerial ass covering 101" textbook.

    As pointed out previously a multitude of inquiries will cause all sorts of demarcation issues where important lines of inquiry are left 'because I understood that to be the task of the blahblah inquiry". In addition there is every likelihood that any inquiry which goes further in it's findings than the pols who appointed it wanted, will be told it is involving itself in business "outside it's purview"

    Anyway I've no desire to bore myself silly by responding to every nit-picker on what is really a visceral issue that normal humans feel rather than think about, but this Brownleeism was too aposite to ignore. If you give my posts the hairy eyeball, fair enough, but don't forget to be equally wary of the paid liars in Wellington. Then in a year or so we'll see who was the conniving vote-grubber, or who was the paranoid 'conspiracist'.

    Since Sep 2007 • 96 posts Report

  • Kracklite,

    Anyway I've no desire to bore myself silly by responding to every nit-picker... Then in a year or so we'll see who was the conniving vote-grubber, or who was the paranoid 'conspiracist'

    James, while I appreciate the sincerity of your feelings, your attempts at self-justification are venturing well into the realms of bad taste, are presented in very egotistical tone and are seemingly calculatedly offensive to a lot of people here. Can you understand that? Please, at least, try some tact.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report

  • Petra,

    Another explosion in the mine.

    While it would be nice (? nice really isn't the right word, but you know what I mean, don't you...) to try to retrieve the bodies so that their friends and families can fully mourn and have some closure, I'm not so sure that it is a good idea. I think that the mine should be sealed off and a memorial created there for families to visit and to weep. Place headstones and plaques there. It is a cemetery now. :(

    Rotorua • Since Mar 2007 • 317 posts Report

  • Neil Morrison,

    None of the media seem to have a definitive timeline so it is probably a bit futile to speculate at present. The Herald talks of *first reports* at 1545 but of what by who to whom is not said.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report

  • giovanni tiso,

    Another fund for the miners' families, administered by the EPMU:

    Donations can be made at any Kiwibank branch or direct to bank account: Kiwibank 38-9011-0165987-00.
    Cheques made out to "EPMU Pike River Miners Family Support Trust" can also be sent by post, care of EPMU, PO Box 14-277, Kilbirnie, Wellington 6241.

    Full statement from the CTU National Affiliates Council below:

    Pike River Mine Tragedy

    We join with the whole of the country in expressing our sorrow for all those affected by this tragedy.

    We send our deepest sympathy to the families, friends, community and fellow workers of the 29 men killed in the accident at Pike River Mine. We also thank and acknowledge the strenuous efforts of the emergency rescue teams, coordinators and those supporting the miners and their families.

    We also send our solidarity and support to the members, officials and staff of the union representing miners (EPMU).

    We have joined with other unions and the Council of Trade Unions to demand that the Commission of Inquiry into this workplace accident is a complete and comprehensive analysis of all the issues and will make strong recommendations to ensure it never happens again.

    This accident also is a tragic reminder of the continued high level of workplace injury and death in this country, and unions at this time vow to continue fighting for improved health and safety practice in New Zealand workplaces.
    We are supporting the fund for miners and their families established by the EPMU.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report

  • Petra, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Shared on Fb. :)

    Rotorua • Since Mar 2007 • 317 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    Law lecturer Nicole Moreham asks did media coverage breach a right to privacy for miners' families just after they were told there could be no survivors?

    As the family members emerged from the meeting, just moments after receiving the news, their every expression and reaction was filmed and photographed by waiting reporters. These people did not want their pictures taken. Some gave hand gestures and others told photographers to ‘f%^* off’. Photographs were nonetheless taken and printed. Within hours, detailed images of relatives’ faces were circulated around the world.


    Concern has been raised that by disseminating these images, the media have turned individual grief into a commodity to be captured, printed and sold. People are shown at their most desperate and vulnerable: mascara is running, faces are twisted with emotion, people are crying. TV footage shows relatives interrupting tears and intimate conversations to deal with encroaching media. Interviews reveal that for many family members media intrusion has made an already unbearable situation even worse.

    It seems that the media’s conduct at Pike River crossed an ethical line. In my view, they have also crossed a legal one. There is a good argument, first, that some members of the media have committed the tort of breach of privacy.

    The tort’s first requirement is that the relatives had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the events depicted in the images. This is almost certainly established. Courts have made it clear that individuals have a right to be left alone if they are experiencing something traumatic, distressing or humiliating, even if they are in a public place at the time. Leaving a meeting at which one has been told that there is no hope of finding one’s loved ones alive is a paradigmatic example of that situation.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to BenWilson,

    Is it not possible that methane could build up extremely rapidly if it is under pressure and a hole is opened to it? Could it widen a small leak, rather like a crack in a dyke, so that a drip rapidly becomes a torrent?

    Trevor Watts seems to think the build up after the first explosion was rapid.

    The explosion ruptured the underground gas drainage line and it immediately began spewing 800 litres per second of methane into the mine, Watts said.

    ETA; Which then raises the issue of how fast was it collecting methane to create this kind of pressure? I doubt that it would have been temporarily stored within the mine - that would be crazy.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 310 posts Report

  • Stephen Judd,

    Nicole Moreham concludes:

    Families of the lost men will currently have more immediate concerns than the law of privacy and, even with the passage of time, might not wish to bring an action. However, it is important to register that intrusive media conduct is not a necessary incidence of modern life. On the contrary, it is an infringement of a legally protected right to be left alone at times of significant distress and trauma.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report

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