Fears Pike River coal seam could be burning
Mon, 29 Nov 2010 12:16p.m.
By Patrick Gower
The chances of recovering the bodies of 29 miners from the Pike River coal mine look slimmer today, with the operation to put out the fire in the mine suffering a major setback.
"The analogy I'd give is it's like a Bunsen burner," says CEO Peter Whittall. "There's a fire at the bottom of the shaft."
A fourth explosion yesterday has set coal in the mine alight. "I flew over it myself, it was very different," says Mr Whittall. "The analogy I used is it smelt like Greymouth on a cool morning where you get that coal smoke."
It could be loose coal in the mine, but even worse, the entire seam of coal could be alight.
"The worst-case scenario, if you like, is that the walls of the mine, which are coal, could start to burn. That's a lot harder to dig out, a lot harder to smother, because it just sits there like when you shut a fire in overnight, with the old coal ranges. They just sit there and virtually do nothing.
"You open up the air and they start again."
So while the families were told the gag machinery was ready to go, the worsening fire means it might not be usable, and the mine would instead be temporarily sealed to try and starve the fire of oxygen.
And all this takes time, so Mr Whittall has informed the families the bodies may not be out by Christmas.
"It's become longer, not shorter."
The latest explosion was violent enough to blow away the steel structure on top of the shaft and set bushes alight.
The police were asked if the fire lessened the chances of the bodies being recovered intact. Inspector Mark Harrison gave a one word answer: "Yes."
He then left without taking further questions.
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15/02/2011 6:49:12 p.m.
Bob, thank you for your patience with these people. They are upset and not understanding what could have been done or why it was not done. They still believe the government is looking out for their best interest. Fact is, this would have been an easy fire for us to have extinguished. We are now setting up in India to use our Nitrogen Foam systems to extinguish the worlds hardest coal seam fires. It's a shame we weren't allowed to help the NZ people.
29/11/2010 8:21:07 p.m.
To prove I am being constructive and this option was/is feasible copied below is a response I have just received to an inquiry I made with those who extinguished the Pinnacle Mine fire:
"Thank you for this contact. I have been trying to get messages to the mine management about the experience we have withy this type of fire.
I would be honored to help in anyway possible.
Yes, there are mistakes being made by people who are obviously not fire fighters.
I believe there are already conventional fire trucks in New Zealand equipped with small CAFS systems which could be used immediately to pump dense thermal resistant foam through the methane drainage boreholes to protect the fallen coalminers. Larger CAFS systems can be assembled from local plumbing hardware suppliers and they will need the largest air compressors available used in concert with the CAFS fire trucks to fill the mine completely to extinguish the fires and wet all of the coal dust to stop the explosions. There is a complicated technique to fighting the underground fires that is not known to the coal fire training organizations but I will gladly try to pass as much information as possible to stop this tragedy from getting even worse.
The GAG has caused us problems in the past.
I will be available if and when needed.
Thank you for your help,
29/11/2010 5:20:02 p.m.
Hmmmm looks like I've pranged a nerve! "helene" you may want to check the latest news updates where the Police have conceeded that because of the ongoing explosions and fires that it is now highly unlikely that the men will ever be returned to their families - do you honestly think that is a great outcome? Not only is this a tragic outcome for grieving families and friends it has all sorts of implications insofar as establishing the cause of this event and trying to prevent a similar event occurring in the future which is going to be vital for the continuation of this industry in NZ.
No decent progress has ever been made in history without someone questioning the status quo - if those who are running this show are comfortable with what they are doing and have done then no one should feel threatened by someone asking legitimate questions!
29/11/2010 4:39:30 p.m.
I can only agree with Lightseed. Please stop criticising all the efforts that have gone on. Once the men are returned to their families and the appropriate Inquiry is undertaken, will we ever hope to have answers...Now is not the time to come up with half arsed ideas, ill informed suppositions and accusations of a sinister nature against Pike River...let them all get on with their heartbreaking task of returning the men to the surface...
29/11/2010 4:07:34 p.m.
"Lightseed" do you come from some third world country? This is a democracy where we have freedom of speech and I actually do have expertise in this area. I never suggested pumping foam in from the mine entrance or filling up a 2 km tunnel. In an emergency situation (where there are no fixed internal systems to apply foam) the likes of High Expansion AFFF foam can be introduced into a confined space through a vent or bore hole to fill up an area and or create a plug - in this case at the upper end of the mine thereby suppressing fires, stabilizing the explosive environment and establishing a safe environment for personnel to enter from the mine entrance. Modern foams can also contain Nitrogen or be used in conjunction with Nitrogen and are effective in forming long lasting vapour barriers to control flammable gas emissions, lower temperatures and reduce explosion risk. A method of this sort was used successfully in the Pinnacle Coal Mine fire in Pittsburgh USA back in 2003. There is nothing personal in my comments about people who are now obviously trying to deal with a situation that wasn't catered for in the mine design in terms of fixed engineered systems - I'm simply saying this is a proven practicable step that could be considered and those who have loved ones in the mine are entitled to know if this option has been considered - unless the company is up to something of course!
29/11/2010 3:25:13 p.m.
are you serious bob? This is not a small space, this is a mine that is at the end of a 2km tunnel. Really I am getting sick of people making stupid comments like you. One person recently suggested flooding the mine with water but could not answer how you push the water uphill into the mine up a 2km shaft. Please would you armchair critics shut up and leave it to the experts. The response to this incident bob was done damn well, you are a coward for even questioning the work of the experts who have worked on this.
29/11/2010 1:41:38 p.m.
While it is all very well having a Royal Commission of Inquiry after the event, how about some questions being asked now (from the media at least) about how the current situation in the Mine is being managed?
For example, now the miners are " all confirmed dead" why has there been no apparent effort to utilise modern fire fighting foams to extinguish the fires and create a safe environment in the mine for entry? Foam technology has been used successfully for decades in high risk confined space firefighting and rescue operations in for example the petrochemical industry and on board ships and also more recently in difficult coal mine fires involving the coal itself - injection of foam can be accomplished from the surface and other inert gases such as nitrogen can complement this approach. The longer this situation underground goes on the more difficult it will become to mange - the whole response to this event appears to have been done on the fly and one really wonders if Pike River Coal have another agenda? At the very least the deterioration of this situation shows that this mine was ill equipped manage underground explosion and subsequent fires in terms of installed engineered systems.
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