Peabody under investigation in relation to mine fire at North Goonyella

November 19, 2018 JOHN NINNESS

The Queensland Government have confirmed that an investigation is underway in respect of the North Goonyella mine fire. The Department of Natural Resources, Mines & Energy Regulators will examine evidence for breaches of the Coal Mining Safety & Health Act by Peabody in relation to the North Goonyella mine fire incident. At this stage, it is not certain whether the regulator will lay charges.

The information comes following a request for information by AMSJ from the Queensland Government in early October under right to information laws. AMSJ requested a range of Government held information relation to the incident and potential causes. Immediately following our request, the Queensland Government announced an investigation.

Our request was then denied on the basis of an on-going investigation. 1300 documents were identified in relation to the search which encompassed “All Mine Safety Inspection reports, including gas monitoring and assessment conducted by the Department in relation to a spontaneous combustion event at North Goonyella Coal Mine.”

The Department advised “The documents in question relate to an investigation into the possible contravention of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (the CMSH Act). I am therefore satisfied that the documents relate to the investigation of a contravention or possible contravention of law.”

The Queensland Government has also confirmed that no written briefing notes on the North Goonyella mine fire were provided to the Mine Safety Commissioner or the Queensland Minister (Anthony Lynham) responsible for mining safety in relation to the incident.

A former departmental employee told AMSJ that the practice is highly irregular. “Staff were evacuated from the mine as a result of gas on a number of occasions, you would expect that (at the very least) the Minister would have demanded a formal briefing note from the Department. It seems highly irregular that 1300 documents were produced but not one went to the Minister.”

AMSJ, and a range of industry insiders have remained highly circumspect in relation to the internal workings of incident. In our story, two weeks ago, we highlighted that “from outside the workings of the incident, some industry personnel have alluded to the issue that the exact location of the heating in the goaf was not well known when the decision to clear the methane was taken. Of course, there will remain industry conjecture about the direct cause of the situation and who was ultimately responsible for the initiation of the fire.”

This last week the industry rumour mill has heard of a range of issues in relation to the incident. Specifically, we were informed that:

  • The fire is now not contained within the sealed area and has moved into roadways;
  • There is available evidence of several underground explosions or significant; rock/roof falls at the site. This evidence was from seismic monitoring equipment;
  • The mine has been completely sealed with ROCSIL including the fan and entry points from the GAG;
  • An imaging device was destroyed due to high temperatures outside the sealed area.

In fairness to Peabody, we requested some feedback. A Peabody spokesperson replied:

“As we noted in last week’s bulletin, we continue to take camera images where possible as we drill additional holes, and we have identified signs of localized geologic and heating impacts in selected areas.  

“Multiple other images show areas unaffected.  So we continue to learn more about the status of the mine with each passing week.   

“This is all part of the assessment and planning phase that we are continuing.  We will continue to offer updates periodically as developments warrant.”

Take Peabody’s response for what it is, it is hard to know what the real truth in relation to this incident is.

What is clear is that the response and communication around the incident has been in stark contrast to BHP’s action in relation to their runaway train. In a short time following the incident, the CEO Andrew Mackenzie spoke out, followed a week later the head of BHP operations in the Pilbara who last week stated specifically the findings of BHP in relation to the incident.

Why the silence?

Some industry insiders have said that Peabody’s action to remove the gas concentrations from the tailgate were “at the Direction of the Queensland Mines Inspectorate” however, a member of the inspectorate has vehemently privately denied that they (mines inspectors) were involved in Peabody’s actions and, that no formal ‘directive’ was issued to Peabody in response to the issue.

Other industry sources have told AMSJ that it is probable that a verbal recommendation may have been made by a member of the Queensland Mines Inspectorate to Peabody to clear the methane from the tailgate area and, that suggestions may have also been made to utilise the methane drainage system in order to assist the process. If this occurred, the probable reason for the mine fire may have been the introduction of fresh air to the tailgate and the ultimately the goaf (and a heating in an unknown location).

So the BIG question remains. Why, after two and a half months following a gas evacuation, a coal mine fire, a mammoth fire-fighting effort by QMRS and tens of millions of dollars in control and remediation costs…are the general public of the State of Queensland any better informed than we were at the beginning?

How can an incident of this ilk occur in an industry as technologically advanced as we claim to be? Nobody is prepared to tell the general public and shareholders of Peabody what really happened. Are there any lessons to be learned? What can we do to prevent another incident like this happening again?

The State of Queensland is losing royalties by the day together with flow on benefits to the community. Contractors have lost their livelihoods and a range of shareholders were hammered by the event.…but a cone of silence remains.

Read more of our stories on the North Goonyella Mine Fire.

Read more Mining Safety News

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