Solid Energy rules out re-entry, gives up Pike River permit

State-owned enterprise walks away from body recovery operation – and the mine itself.

The families of the 29 miners who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine disaster almost four years ago have been informed Solid Energy will not re-enter the mine to finally recover the bodies, citing safety concerns.

The state-owned enterprise, which told the cabinet of its decision on Tuesday, says it considers the risk to life posed by a re-entry operation remains too high.

Solid Energy board chair Pip Dunphy made the announcement in Greymouth, where Prime Minister John Key, Energy Minister Simon Bridges and Acting Conservation Minister Nick Smith are also meeting the families this morning.

"We know this decision will be very disappointing to the family members and friends of the men who died in the mine," Ms Dunphy said.

"However, any further loss of life in this mine is unacceptable and any possibility of other families having to go through what the Pike families have suffered is not something our board can support."

Ms Dunphy said the board had also reached a decision to surrender its permit for the Pike River Mine and will now discuss next steps with the government.

Last month, Solid Energy chief executive Dan Clifford said the company had received legal advice that a re-entry could not go ahead without a second egress or tunnel, but declined to comment on what the board had been advised about directors’ liability if a re-entry went awry.

The company, which took over the assets of Pike River Coal in 2012, had been expected to announce its decision about the feasibility of a re-entry in October but delayed in order to consider more advice from mining experts advising the families of the killed miners.

Those experts, David Creedy and Bob Stevenson, believe it is possible to re-enter the mind safely, an opinion shared by WorkSafe NZ, which had given its all-clear for a body recovery operation a year ago, documents released under the Official Information Act have revealed.

The government stumped up $7.2 million for Solid Energy to devise a re-entry plan that was “technically feasible, financially credible and safe” in September last year, and the first steps to facilitate the operation were undertaken before the company halted preparations, saying new risks had come to light that need to be assessed.

Some of the families of the 29 miners are now expected to request to be allowed to take over the operation of the mine  to manage the body recovery operation themselves, with the assistance of Messrs Creedy and Stevenson.

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