Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Where nature may win

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  • Pete Sime, in reply to Scott A,

    When in session, Parliament sits Tuesday-Thursday, given that this thing started on Friday there hasn't been a chance to discuss it there.

    Dunedin • Since Apr 2008 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking, in reply to Scott A,

    It was mentioned at the tail end of the press conferences at the mine and whoever was speaking (car radio fading in and out at the time) appeared under the impression John Key had mentioned the matter in Parliament and refuted the claims made.

    In fact Key brought the matter up at his post-Cabinet press conference. I gather the original questions were made by Australian journalists at the Pike River site.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 799 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Hills,

    Nice to see some acknowledgement here of the completely redundant live crosses. Peter Williams bouncing back and forth between reporters stationed along Tainui street was just distracting to me.

    One thing I’ve found interesting is the report that Allan Dixon rang his wife from in the mine, after the explosion. I initially saw it in a stuff.co.nz article, from which it was soon removed. This morning the herald was quoting it almost word for word at the bottom of an article and has also since removed it. I never heard it amongst any of the local rumours so I don’t know where it came from. I would have thought any competent writer would have realised the significance and that maybe a little fact-checking might have been required.

    Crescent City • Since Nov 2006 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    If companies that contract to Watercare Services have wee robots that go down our sewers (with cameras attached for viewing), why can't these also go down the mine to get an idea of wtf is going on down there? I suspect they have had a look and it don't look good. Hope that is wrong though.The expression by Mr Rockhouse with regard his and his colleagues ability to move with a smaller intake of gas does suggest if the remaining guys are in a similar spot they would be under extreme diificulty to move or live. The explosion could suggest that passage has been blocked and has cut off the guys that were deeper. Hope so.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    .. because that may be their saviour.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Michael Hills,

    Don't know about the Stuff story but the Herald one still has this snippet:

    In the nearby township of Runanga, the partner of 60-year-old Alan Dixon says she received a call from the phone in the mine, after the explosion.

    "It was quite fuzzy," says Dixon's son, Joel.

    Police are dubious - but they have confirmed the one call after the blast.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15769 posts Report Reply

  • AndrewD,

    I wrote this earlier today

    The nation starts to demand more and more loudly that rescue attempts begin. This is anger born of emotion and is understandable amongst relatives and close friends. But Superintendant Gary Knowles, whose heart is breaking and anger simmering, does not need to be challenged again by people with nothing at stake but a headline. Ultimately it’s been the right thing to do for the men underground. Let’s blunder in there and set the whole thing off again? I don’t think so.

    Other questions will need to be asked.

    3 days to find a spark free robot for reconnaissance? Air samples flown to a distant town for analysis? Repairs needed this year to ventilation fans as conditions underground were worse than expected? The ventilation shaft itself only accessible by helicopter as the mine is under Conservation land? Was this mine really prepared for the worst?

    If things had gone well this year this mine would have produced 170 million dollars in exports. Nowhere near the return of say, “The Hobbit”. I wonder if Gerry Brownlee and the government still thinks mining the Conservation Estate will be our saviour or whether the events of this week, where 29 lives may have been lost searching for minimal returns, has changed his mind?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 53 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    Speaking of which, did I really hear that someone in Parliament asked John Key why New Zealand's mine standards weren't up to Australian standards, such as including oxygen supplies?

    That was certainly how the CEO put it in the press conference.

    If companies that contract to Watercare Services have wee robots that go down our sewers (with cameras attached for viewing), why can't these also go down the mine to get an idea of wtf is going on down there?

    Can it go 2.5 km on batteries? Can it do the job without throwing sparks and blowing any survivors to kingdom come? Can in haul cable and so on?

    I'm not saying you're wrong, but I'd expect that the teams involved - and, heck, the Watercare people themselves - will have asked those sorts of questions, too.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Hills, in reply to AndrewD,

    I’m not sure where the $170 million figure is from exactly, but the lifetime of the mine was 20+ years, even more if they were allowed to enter the Brunner seam. I don’t think the Hobbit is quite in the same league.

    I believe (though not for sure) that the samples were being flown to Rapahoe for testing by gas chromatography, I don’t think individual mines could be expected to have that sort of instrumentation on-site or staff qualified to run and analyse them when more simple gas analysis is normally sufficient. Anyway, I’m not arguing that these questions need to be asked, just saying there are often completely reasonable explanations when the facts are examined.

    Crescent City • Since Nov 2006 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    3 days to find a spark free robot for reconnaissance?

    Try reading about intrinsic safety before you get ideas about just how easy it ought to be to find such a thing. Real intrinsic safety, of the quality necessary for operation in a methane-filled environment, is hard. It's expensive as hell to create a truly intrinsically safe device of the complexity of a robot needed for this kind of activity.
    Hell, intrinsic safety is sufficiently expensive that the Fire Service doesn't even have exclusively intrinsically-safe radios out in the field. Plenty of "normal" ones are still on trucks all over the country, and have to be turned off if the fire fighter carrying it is working around flammable/explosive gases. The risk is minimal, but still sufficient to justify the precaution.

    If companies that contract to Watercare Services have wee robots that go down our sewers (with cameras attached for viewing), why can’t these also go down the mine to get an idea of wtf is going on down there?

    Almost certainly not intrinsically safe, and if they are they're likely not ruggedised to operate in a mine collapse situation and probably aren't capable of being controlled at 2.5-plus-kilometres remote from the operator. Those're some pretty specific, specialised, demanding requirements, and sewer operators don't really need to worry about them. The gases in sewers tend to be toxic or asphyxiating, not flammable to the point where intrinsic safety is an issue.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3733 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I've deliberately avoided this story yesterday and today, so not sure if this has been addressed - but is there really no way for a small group of people wearing spark-free sneakers and airtight breathing gear to walk into the mine without risking an explosion? And yet drilling another hole through rock is OK?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15769 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I believe (though not for sure) that the samples were being flown to Rapahoe for testing by gas chromatography, I don’t think individual mines could be expected to have that sort of instrumentation on-site or staff qualified to run and analyse them when more simple gas analysis is normally sufficient. Anyway, I’m not arguing that these questions need to be asked, just saying there are often completely reasonable explanations when the facts are examined.

    I do gas chromatography (for methane, even). It's not exceptionally difficult, but the equiptment is expensive and a little delicate and the testing is time-consuming. It's not the kind of thing you'd have just lying around if you didn't need it quite often - other labs in our department come and use ours rather than everyone getting their own, and they use it on a semi-regular basis. I'm not at all surprised they wouldn't have one on site.

    but is there really no way for a small group of people wearing spark-free sneakers and airtight breathing gear to walk into the mine without risking an explosion?

    The current reports sound like there could be an actual fire down there, not to mention the risk of spontaneous explosions at any time if gas levels are high enough. And if they are high, it could take little more than someone kicking a pebble the wrong way at the wrong time. That's all if the mine tunnel is even open all the way to where the men were - it could be blocked off; no-one knows. In that situation, you're basically sending rescuers off to uncertain death. And I think that's the last thing anyone wants.

    (Also - to be grim - no-one even knows for certain that there is anyone to rescue. That has to be affecting how things proceed.)

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • James George,

    While the self congratulatory little bourgois world moves along its predictable track of "Mr Plod knows whats best for us all" tempered with "Those foreign journos need to learn to be accepting little sheeple taking their spoonful of soma when its offered" there is no chance of anyone being pushed out of their comfort zone into a world where hard questions are asked and answered.
    Questions like "In hundreds of years of methane explosions in coal mines, why is it that if the coal earns billions, there is such reluctance to develop technology to prevent recurrences?"
    I'm no engineer but I can envisage the obstacles that a vehicle (manned or unmanned) designed to work in a volatile atmosphere would need to overcome, and I can envisage workable solutions to each of those potential problems. For example electric motors and their battery power supply can be built into a sealed module from where no spark could be generated, much less escape.
    The Pike River Mine company knew the potential risk yet no one made them protect their workers. If many millions to protect snails was affordable, then surely a few mill for an escape pod to protect humans is also possible.

    That is without looking at the reality, that a massive build-up of methane should never have been able to occur undetected in a 21st century coal mine. Everyone is toeing the nice govt/corporate sponsored line "This isn't the time to kick up, lets wait and have an inquiry". That is designed to ensure there is no accountability because unless the facts on how this tragedy was allowed to occur are aired now when the fickle public is paying attention, theose responsible won't be held to account and the incident could re-occur.

    The facts are simple if you think. Either methane explosions are an uncontrollable reality of coal mining, in which case the mine should never have been allowed to open at all. Or they can be prevented, in which case the mine owners and bosses are responsible for this tragedy (as much as I want to be wrong on that reality is after 4 days, this is a tragedy the only issue is how big a tragedy it is) and the decision makers should be imprisoned, NZ's coal resources are taken off the current operators and the coal left in the ground until a mine company comes along with a workable plan which protects both the environment and the workers.
    It is unthinkable that in 2010 NZ accepts a business model that includes the possibility of a large number of workers being killed as one of the hazards of doing business. For any amount of money.
    Andrew Little and his engineers appear to be the trade union with coverage. What happened to the old mineworkers? Was a political decision made to bring in a more 'flexible' trade union, one which also had coverage for the bosses, but little practical experience in the realities of shovelling out coal in a dangerous mine?
    The inquiry should also look at whether the workers' representatives bargained safety away to get coverage of all workers. If that did happen then those self described trade- unionists need to be slotted up in the cell next to the company's so-called mining experts who ran the show.
    It was only back in April (6 months ago) that | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/06/west-virginia-mine-explos_n_526810.html 29 miners were killed in a West Virginia coal mine. The public kicked up there not heeding the company calls for a 'grieving time' free of 'politicking'. It transpired that the govt mining watchdog, the mining company and even some miner representatives had been engaged in a conspiracy to sacrifice safety for money.
    The company got hit hard because people were paying attention so politicians got too scared to protect their mates who owned the mine.
    The only way the same thing (catching& punishing those responsible), can happen here is if we show we want action not smarmy spin.

    Since Sep 2007 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to James George,

    Either methane explosions are an uncontrollable reality of coal mining, in which case the mine should never have been allowed to open at all.

    Right, then, let's shut down every industry in which there is the slightest possibility anyone could ever be killed, by anything. That's going to go well.

    I'm no engineer but I can envisage the obstacles that a vehicle (manned or unmanned) designed to work in a volatile atmosphere would need to overcome, and I can envisage workable solutions to each of those potential problems. For example electric motors and their battery power supply can be built into a sealed module from where no spark could be generated, much less escape.

    Helpful hint: when starting your sentences with "I'm no X but..." it's best not to go on to demonstrate within the same paragraph that you really do have no fucking clue about the problems you're so blithely offering solutions to.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    Can it go 2.5 km on batteries? Can it do the job without throwing sparks and blowing any survivors to kingdom come? Can in haul cable and so on?

    Yes. They also have remote control ones an'all.Unfortunately the don't have the right Pig on the case (Pipe Inspector Gismo)
    Why do the Police have to be in charge of rescue? I'd rather a Fireman. They risk their lives every time they go to work . In many hazardous conditions.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Sacha,

    Exactly.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to James George,

    Hear ! Hear!

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    Oh look, even the Army has a robot

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    While the self congratulatory little bourgois world moves along its predictable track of “Mr Plod knows whats best for us all”

    If that translates as "an experienced officer, at the scene, with access to expert advice from all over the world probably knows more than me -- given that I really don't know shit," then yes, I agree with you.

    But I suspect that isn't what you mean.

    tempered with “Those foreign journos need to learn to be accepting little sheeple taking their spoonful of soma when its offered” there is no chance of anyone being pushed out of their comfort zone into a world where hard questions are asked and answered.

    Oddly enough, the guy I had to snark at on Twitter yesterday thought the same thing about the cops, but he thought Peter Whittall was fantastic. I suspect Whittall and his company will not emerge well from this. But if you care to search, business journalists have been writing tough stories about the company for some time. As in, they'd heard of Pike River before last week.

    The Pike River Mine company knew the potential risk yet no one made them protect their workers. If many millions to protect snails was affordable, then surely a few mill for an escape pod to protect humans is also possible.

    Actually, unless all the reports are completely wrong, there are self-rescue pods in the mine, with additional air and supplies. And the preservation of the snails (on Department of Conservation land, btw) has nothing to do with anything.

    That is without looking at the reality, that a massive build-up of methane should never have been able to occur undetected in a 21st century coal mine.

    Can I submit that you do not have the first clue what you talking about?

    Let's hear from someone who does: a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist:

    But it’s not enough to just put in monitors and air shafts because what history tells us is that here’s – in how we ourselves maintain those shafts, listening to those warning flickers – it’s here where it tends to break down. Reports have been circulating of ventilation problems at the New Zealand mine, that may have allowed a methane buildup in the tunnels. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted a mining expert today who insisted modern safety systems do guarantee against explosive accidents. ”If they had all the [safety] systems in place it shouldn’t have happened.”

    I believe that was pretty much what people said when the Upper Branch mine in West Virginia (coal mining country, United States of America) went up in a methane-fed fireball last April, killing 29 miners as it went. They undoubtedly said that when a Russian mine explosion about a month later, killed 60-some miners there.

    For better or worse, it's quite clear that this kind of thing does happen.

    Everyone is toeing the nice govt/corporate sponsored line “This isn’t the time to kick up, lets wait and have an inquiry”. That is designed to ensure there is no accountability because unless the facts on how this tragedy was allowed to occur are aired now when the fickle public is paying attention, theose responsible won’t be held to account and the incident could re-occur.

    Yes. Because hasty judgements are always the best ones.

    And also: are you fucking kidding? There will be an inquiry and it will be on the news night after night. Evidence will be given and blame will be laid. Your argument is is nonsense.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17980 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Yes. They also have remote control ones an’all.Unfortunately the don’t have the right Pig on the case (Pipe Inspector Gismo)

    Sofie. FFS. You're sitting around in Aucland, not really knowing anything, and you're happy to declare the guy who does have to make the decisions a "pig" . Really?

    Has it occurred to you that one of the considerations has been that if they fuck up and trigger another explosion, it's not just the rescuers who get killed -- it pretty much rules out whatever slim chance there is of getting the miners out alive? The stakes are very bloody high.

    Why do the Police have to be in charge of rescue? I’d rather a Fireman. They risk their lives every time they go to work . In many hazardous conditions.

    The firemen who went into the Icepak coolstore in Hamilton in 2008 had inadequate information about what they were confronting. There was an explosion. One of them was killed and seven more were horribly burned. Just sayin'.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17980 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    And yet drilling another hole through rock is OK?

    It is when ones uses that well known lubricant and anti combustion agent. It also keeps the dust down.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1149 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    The writing in the Herald is increasingly surreal. For example:

    ..."As the rescue preparations go up into the hills a group of rugged West Coast men, one with the handlebar moustache you see quite a bit around here, quietly drink beer outside the pub as the helicopter thumps away into the distance..."

    I know how this goes!

    "...I tapped my cigarette on the bar and turned to the men drinking. "Say, any of you boys got a light?" It was then she walked in, she was the kind of dame that could get a man into trouble..."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Yes, I'm sitting up here understanding the impatience and emotion of most of the people down there. For them ,it doesn't lend itself to a time to be all patient. For a minute there I considered that James George might have mates in the mines, hence his emotion although also thought he could be one of those anti mining on conservation land types,. but that was obviously wrong as some PASers here have decided.
    I still believe they could have tried remote equipment by now, and Pipe Inspection gadgets do exist, that was my reference albeit a little too close for comfort I see. Still , don't see why the Policeman is the expert here. Shouldn't it be the fire brigade or are you suggesting because of a previous explosion ,they are now not the right emergency department and let's face it the Police Department have had their fair share of inadequate responses before. jus' sayin' ;)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5743 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Pigging

    However, they are specialised... ie., for pipes, not rubble-strewn mines.

    I’m no engineer but...

    I can't even be bothered with this. Usually it's said that everything before the "but" is bullshit. I've got an industrial design degree and I'm going to STFU about this.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 955 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    Either methane explosions are an uncontrollable reality of coal mining, in which case the mine should never have been allowed to open at all.

    Could you do us a favour by boycotting your computer (made with steel, which requires coal) and power supply (high-tension steel cables require coal) until there's a perfectly safe way of extracting coal? Thanks.

    And Sophie, it's good to see there's no tragedy you can't use as grist to the mill that is your hatred of the police.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

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