GUEST POST: Why Wasn't Pike River Mine Open Cast? [update 3]
Mark Hubbard says* what many of us are thinking about the tragedy at Pike River.
I feel empathy for the family and friends who the perished miners leave behind.. I do not feel grief though, for the same reason I feel no personal grief for the millions of young men who died in the last two world wars: I knew none of them personally, as I knew none of these men. There have been far too many plastic tears in the reporting of this disaster…
Many involved acquitted themselves well—one man especially for whom I have acquired enormous respect: that man is Peter Whittall. It’s no accident this great man has risen from miner to CEO. If you want a case study in competence, communication and simply being ‘human,’ then use Mr Whittall as your example. His bearing in the media exudes a morality and sensibility of man qua man.
And despite the flak they’ve taken, I also think the police acquitted themselves well—and as Lindsay Perigo observes, the second explosion has shown their prudence was well-founded.
But for me the police made one error. I think Stephen Franks was right. If I am a free man, then that includes the freedom to die nobly, or stupidly (take your pick)… If men wanted to go into this mine to rescue their loved ones, as irrational and ill-advised as that would have been (and presuming that would not itself risk a second explosion), that was still their prerogative. If the police did physically stop this (some comments from the grieving relatives would indicate this, but it is merely supposition on my behalf), then the police were beyond the mandate a free society should have given them.
These are hard questions emotionally, but they are also very simple…
So to the even simpler issue of where my anger truly lies.
This mine increased the standards of living of us all via the mechanism of free markets and wealth creation. So should it exist? Yes. Of course. The mine however was known in the industry for being ‘gassy’: that is, the coal seam released a lot of methane as it was mined, which is dangerous, despite its being a 'wet mine': this fact caused problems and cost overruns throughout its development, especially around the ventilation system (cost overrun $7 million just on that). Was there a way to reduce the danger of a ‘gassy’ mine to the workers who took out the coal? Yes – an open-cast mine would have held none of the risks of this mine, for the methane would have dissipated immediately without enclosed spaces in which to build up.
So, why was Pike River not an open-cast mine? Answer: the bureaucrats in DOC who place a higher value on a tree, than on human beings, insisted it couldn’t be.
It is significant that DOC have felt needed to put out their own press release they disclaiming any responsibility. But their very own press release damns every bureaucrat involved:
Environmental concerns did not compromise safety at the Pike River mine, Conservation Department director-general Al Morrison says. "We set stringent conditions and they met them to the extent that we gave them a conservation award." [Emphasis mine.]
"The Pike River mine had to navigate sensitive environmental challenges above the ground, as well as difficult geology below … The company has an access agreement with DOC. Once mining has finished, all evidence of the project has to be removed, such as buildings, bridges and powerlines. Pike River Coal has spent millions of dollars to meet environmental guidelines. It recycles water, has kept its surface features to a minimum and has zig-zagged powerlines and roads around ancient rimu trees." [Emphasis mine.]
And, the truly damning part:
"New Zealand has an opportunity to be a world leader in developing `green mines'. Our mine at Pike River proves that it can be done. It was likely any new mines would be underground. In such cases the surface impact is small, the infrastructure is removed at the end of mining and the small areas affected are restored. On the small areas affected, trees grow back." [Emphasis mine.]
Well now we know what a green mine does: it kills humans.
So, under DOC’s watch, under the Gaia-worshipping eyes of the bureaucrats, open-cast mines will never occur in NZ, and they weren’t even an option for Pike River. Yet if Pike River had been an open-cast mine, all 29 of these miners would still be alive.
That’s where your real anger should be directed, and that’s what any “inquiry” should skewer.
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* Excerpted, and cleaned up slightly from his SOLO press release this morning.