Pike River Mine Facts: Learn About This Mining Tragedy And Its Effects | Kidadl


Pike River Mine Facts: Learn About This Mining Tragedy And Its Effects

Arts & Crafts
Learn more
Reading & Writing
Learn more
Math & Logic
Learn more
Sports & Active
Learn more
Music & Dance
Learn more
Social & Community
Learn more
Mindful & Reflective
Learn more
Outdoor & Nature
Learn more
Read these Tokyo facts to learn all about the Japanese capital.

Underground coal mining is a job that entails a significant level of danger.

Of the nine explosions that resulted in 211 deaths in New Zealand, the Pike River explosion is the most recent one, with 29 deaths. The Pike Mine was a coal mine located between Greymouth and Reefton on the west coast of the island of New Zealand.

It was in the vicinity of the Pike Stream. The preparations for the Pike River Coal Limited began in the '40s, but it was only approved in 2004. The mine was opened in November 2008 by Gerry Brownlee (the Minister of Energy and Resources and Minister for Economic Development), shortly after coal production began in October. The mine was 660 ft (200 m) deep, making it New Zealand's largest underground coal mine. The mine was expected to generate 1 million ton (907,184 metric ton) of coal per year. The coal that was produced in the mine was the best hard coking coal with high fluidity. At the time, this sort of coal was in high demand. Due to technological challenges, the initial output was significantly lower than expected. In February, the company successfully delivered its first coal cargo to India, totaling 20,000 ton (18143.6 metric ton). Since there was such a high demand for coal, the authorities of the Pike River Coal Limited decided to overlook most of the problems in the design. They also turned a blind eye to the warning indications, putting the miners' safety in jeopardy. All of these factors played a huge role in the pike river disaster that occurred on November 19, 2010.

Pike River Mine Explosion

The Pike River mine disaster was catastrophic enough to make it to the headlines of almost every news channel in November 2010.

The Pike River mine disaster is characterized by two explosions. The first explosion happened at 3:44 p.m. on November 19, 2010. It is doubted that the initial mining operations might have resulted in a methane assemblage.

This methane, due to a roof collapse, might have entered the mine and into the working areas of the mine directly. The reason behind the first explosion is still obscure. Officials have stated that a functioning mine has threats from multiple potential ignition sources. Out of the 16 miners and 13 contractors, two miners were able to vacate the premises right away and reach the safe zone as they were in the stone access tunnel, away from the area where the explosion occurred.

The rescue teams drilled a hole in the area where the miners worked. The level of methane at the depth was 95% with the other primary gas being carbon monoxide. Rescue teams lost hope as even if the trapped miners escaped the explosion, they would not have survived the methane gas.

The second explosion happened at 2:37 p.m. on November 24, 2010. Peter Whittall, the CEO of the Pike River Mine and the Mine Manager, officially let out a statement saying that the first, as well as the second explosion, was not caused by the miners and that it most likely had to do with methane accumulation. The second explosion was equally disastrous and sent out explosive gases and tons of smoke.

There were two other explosions that completely destroyed the rest of the mine. One of which was minor and occurred at 3:39 p.m. on November 26, 2010. The final explosion blew up the entire mine and the coal within it. None of the bodies of the workers were ever found.

The Immediate Aftermath

Authorities were concerned about manned re-entry shortly after the explosion because the end of the mine drift was obstructed by a massive quantity of fallen rock.

The rescue troops lacked experience since there had only been one similar occurrence in the past, some 40-45 years ago. Though it was obvious that the miners would not have survived the explosion or escaped the gas, public pressure was intense. People lost faith after the series of explosions that happened over the next five days. The plan to recover the bodies beyond the roof collapse in the access tunnel was eventually abandoned, as further exploration would have been dangerous.

The Pike River coal mining accident began on November 19, 2010.

The Construction Phase

The history of the mine's development dates back to the '40s when the first geologists examined the region.

A combined report by Gordon Ward (who was CEO of the west wing from May 2007-October 2010) and Peter Whittall (who was the CEO when the explosion occurred) proposing a mine layout and development was submitted to the Pike River Coal Board. The proposal required the construction of an access road through the hill connecting to the nine's main gate. To reach the coal seams, a 1.4 mi (2.3 km) tunnel would be dug through the solid rocks of the hill. After the completion of both these projects, coal production would begin. The access agreement for River Coal Ltd was authorized by Chris Carter, the minister of conservation in March 2004.

There were several problems related to the construction, most of which arose because of the obliviousness of the corporation toward the possible hazards and lack of knowledge about the New Zealand rock formation. Due to the inability to conduct proper geological assessments, the development was hampered. The construction of an access road from the mine entrance, which began in December 2005, was completed within 10 months, which was sooner than expected. It involved the construction of multiple bridges through hard rocks. However, the construction process was delayed due to tunneling, which required expensive bolting and concrete work. This also increased the cost of the project.

Every coal mine needs a proper ventilation system to pump fresh air. The ventilation fan, which was supposed to pump in the fresh air and pull out the harmful methane gas in the coal mine, was installed at the bottom section, as there were operational issues. The company, instead of fixing the issues, decided to abandon the original plan of installing the shaft at the top and proceeded with a bypass shaft. In the coal mining industry, this sort of installation was and is normally avoided since it exposes the ventilation system to power outages, fires, and explosions. Despite the fact that it is not obligatory to designate a ventilation officer in New Zealand, practically all mines, except the Pike River mine, did so.

Preparing for Coal Mining

The Pike River coal mine was not well prepared for coal mining.

Initially, for the extraction of coal, a coal cutting technology and a hydro mining method were to be used. In order to slice the coal, these methods employ high-pressure water jets. Though hydro mining on the west coast was successful, it had a set of drawbacks.

One of the major drawbacks was the possibility of huge methane bursts that could occur if the coal face collapsed. The coal cutting machinery used by the miners was continuously breaking down as they were exposed to harsh environments. Even worse, this type of machinery also triggered minor methane explosions every time it hit a rough sandstone. The coal mine was still in the early stages of operation despite extracting coal since November 2010. Additionally, it was also running behind schedule as the cost of ventilation issues and gear breakdowns skyrocketed. Eventually, Gordon Ward was fired from the CEO position and replaced by Peter Whittall (a mining engineer from Australia). In one year, six different mine managers were appointed. Every mine industry prepares and equips itself for methane hazards. With other issues on hand, the methane threats were completely ignored. Though there were repeated alerts concerning the methane levels, the management still focused on coal production. The methane detection network that was supposed to be installed was never completed. The mine's inspector also went to the extent of considering closing down the mine due to its poor facilities and conditions, but was persuaded to decide otherwise by the mine managers.

Lessons from Pike River Mine Tragedy

Due to the ambiguity of the cause of the methane explosion in the Pike River Mine, a royal commission was constituted to investigate the causes of the catastrophe.

The report of the royal commission stated that just like the rest of the mine accidents, the fault lies with the management that focused on coal production and the risk of methane explosion has been downplayed. The coal seams had been filled with gasses, which led to tiny ignitions throughout the time the mine was functioning.

Another lesson from the incident was that the design of a mine and the mining methods are of supreme importance. The pike mine's design had a lot of defects. The structure of the mine involved the construction of a 1.4 mi (2.3 km) tunnel reaching the coal seam. The structure, for ventilation purposes, must have had a shaft. Instead, it only had a ventilation fan that was set underground. The government abandoned its responsibility to check whether the structure was safe.

The report of the royal commission further highlighted the flaws in the health and safety record and compared it to those of other countries. Once the report was given, John Kelly, the prime minister, apologized to the Pike River families for the government's inefficiency. The underground mining tragedy also led to the formation of a crown agency that has an independent board devoted to the safety of the mining industry.

Did you know?

The Pike River mine was found guilty of violating health and safety laws. Under the Health and Safety Act, the mine breached nine laws. The government was also held liable for failing to ensure that the Pike River Mine complied with all applicable health and safety regulations. A fine of $760,000 was imposed on the mine, and an additional order demanding the owner of the Pike River mine pay $110,000 to every survivor and to the family members of the victim.

The Pike River mine was bought by Solid Energy, which was the largest coal mining company in New Zealand. Solid Energy was responsible for the safety of the mine until it was handed over to the Pike River Recovery Agency in 2018.

As per the request from the families of the victims, the Pike River mine and its surrounding area have been transformed into a park, the Paparoa National Park (New Zealand). The promenade that connects the mine with Punakaiki cost almost $12 million to build. As a memorial to the victims, a part of the mine portal will be included in the park.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Pike River mine facts, then why not take a look at New Zealand flag facts, or why are New Zealanders called Kiwis?

Written By
Joan Agie

<p>With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.</p>

Read The Disclaimer

Was this article helpful?