Andrew Little open to cancelling Pike River re-entry if progress cannot be made safely

Andrew Little is open to not re-entering Pike River mine and says if no progress has been made by Christmas, officials will question if that is the right move.

On Thursday, Little, the Minister Responsible for Pike River re-entry, announced that the operation planned for Friday had been delayed due to elevated oxygen levels at the far end of the drift.

The decision to suspend operations was disappointing for the local West Coast community and families of the 29 men killed in the 2010 explosion, but they also understood health and safety had to be put first.

While the previous Government said the mine wasn't safe enough to re-enter, the current Government says experts believe it is possible to get men back into the mine to look for evidence about what caused the explosion.

But Little told The AM Show on Friday that if problems continue to arise and nothing can be done to make the re-entry safe, they may have to call quits on the operation.

"There will come a point where we say 'we have fulfilled our commitment to do everything possible and everything conceivable and safely, but we can't get there or we can't go any further'," he said.

"We are making judgement calls all the time and certainly by Christmas, we expect, we've planned for, to have made considerable progress by that time. So if we haven't, then yeah, these questions definitely arise."

Andrew Little open to cancelling Pike River re-entry if progress cannot be made safely
Photo credit: The AM Show

But Little said it isn't at that point yet and officials are yet to face a problem they can't overcome.

"I am confident when we come across problems like this we will get through it. Everything points to it is possible to do this job safely.

"You deal with every challenge and every problem. If it becomes insurmountable, it's insurmountable. We haven't come across an insurmountable problem yet. We have come across problems we work our way through and we resolve them."

He said he was naturally disappointed to postpone the re-entry due to the massive amount of work that had gone into preparing for it, but the decision reflected a safety-first culture.

"We made a promise to ourselves with the families that we are not going to put any more lives at risk, it is a safety first culture, and when something happens that is unexplained and unexpected then you stop what you are doing and you work out what is going so you can proceed safely."

Andrew Little open to cancelling Pike River re-entry if progress cannot be made safely
Photo credit: The AM Show

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the disaster, agreed the decision had been disappointing, but didn't believe it was the end to re-entering.

"I feel pretty strongly that this is not a showstopper, that the experienced men we have got up there will get around this and I reassure the country everything is gonna be safe and is going to be done properly."

But he also said he is open to not going back into the mine if that is what experts believe is right.

"I'm a realist. I have always said, and I have said this way back in the [Sir John Key administration] days, if our experts come to me and stand beside me and say 'Bernie, we can't do anything more for you, this is all we can do', I would put my hand up and say 'fair enough, let's walk away from this'.

"But my experts... are still confident this job can be done."

Budget for re-entering

Despite the delays, Rob Fyfe, an advisor to Little, said no more money was currently being earmarked for the operation.

"The Government has approved expenditure up to $36 million for the entire project. I'm not sure where the exact expenditure today sits, but it's a relatively small fraction of that.

"At this stage we have confidence that the budget is appropriate but we may discover something in the future that causes us to reassess that."

He agreed the delay was likely only a small bump in the road.

"At this stage expectation is it's a small set back, but there's clearly further analysis needs to be done to confirm that."