26 Nov 2010

Making mine safe can't be rushed

10:00 am on 26 November 2010

A mine safety consultant warns the process of making the Pike River coal mine safe cannot be rushed.

A special jet engine unit, known as a gag unit, is being flown from Australia, to make the mine safe enough for the 29 bodies to be recovered.

David Feickert told Morning Report that inert gas will be injected into the mine eliminating the oxygen so there can't be another explosion.

He said it is a mixture of science and art and the grieving families will need to be very patient.

Specialist equipment and teams from Australia arrived on Friday.

Sixteen personnel from the Queensland Mines Rescue Service are bringing the gag unit - a machine that will put out any fires inside the mine and dispel explosive gases.

The machine will fill the mine with a cloud of inert, white gas.

Service manager Wayne Hartley says the unit is a jet engine with an afterburner, into which, water is injected to produce an oxygen-free gas, with a high content of water vapour.

Mr Hartley says the unit has been used to put out coal mine fires in Australia and the United States.

The unit is now at the Pike River mine.

'Mining blind'

A senior American mine accident investigator says coal seams are mined blindly without knowing what gases they may contain.

Davitt McAteer is looking into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, that killed 29 men in West Virginia in April.

Mr McAteer says a better understanding of coal is needed to make mining practices safe.

He says deeper geological analysis of a coal seam might reveal the presence of methane, which could then be de-gassed.

Mr McAteer says mining companies worldwide consistently fail to mine coal safely.