During the Pike River mine disaster I have raised some questions for journalists to ask, and raised some suspicions. As news becomes available, it is apparent that the mining company has done a good job in undertaking the rescue. The latest reports are available here. The next step will be to restore ventilation to the mine in order that the bodies may be recovered. It also seems likely that the mine will be sealed up and become their tomb. The reality is that this decision may depend upon a decision to re-open the mine.
I have previously argued that the mine should not be reopened without coal methane extraction. These coal seams need to be degassed. The reason is not simply that the coal is gassy, but that I suggest its because the coal is relatively deformed, resulting in strong hydrostatic pressures within the rocks. I would not be surprised if the mine was subject to sudden inflows of water and release of methane inside the mine.
It would be an expensive effort to extract the gas from the development headings. It would be even harder since you would have to get access to existing development headings. Any efforts to re-open the mine will be opposed by 'greenies' because it is a fairly pristine mountain forest environment. I really think it was poor judgement which allowed this mine to proceed. It is superior quality coal. It is the premium 'metallurgical' coal. The seams are not great, the port facilities pretty poor, the distance to market is not appealing, but the coal prices are high, and are likely to stay high. The commercial aspects tend to support mining, however I am inclined to say that its too hard. It would be far more constructive for NZ Oil & Gas to invest in offshore oil & gas exploration. Oil & gas has far more upside, NZ has considerable potential, and probably at far less environmental cost (depending on location & recovery practices) than coal mining. Coal mining is not the future of Greymouth, its the past. The town without this resource probably only had 10 years of resources left. There are far more readily available and appealing coal resources in Australia, Russia and China.
On this one, I agree with the greenies. Really the future of NZ likes in high values services, niche exports, oil & gas, farm products and tourism. Yes, coal will remain a niche export. It just didn't make sense at Pike River. Solid Energy is developing a very appealing and large lignite coal resource in Southland which will have a 100+ year life span. It will convert low grade, hydrated lignite into high energy briquettes made by compression I believe. That resource will make Southland's Gore the coal mining capital of NZ. Greymouth will lose its title in the next 10 years.