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Twenty-seven ‘high potential incidents’ at Grosvenor coal mine are among multiple cases of excess methane gas levels within the past year to be probed in a Queensland mine safety board of inquiry.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham announced that retired District Court Judge Terry Martin SC would lead the inquiry along with coal mine safety expert Professor Andrew Hopkins from the Australian National University.

It follows the underground gas explosion at the Grosvenor longwall on May 6 which left five miners with serious burns. Four remain critically ill in hospital.

“The board’s terms of reference ask them to inquire into the incident at Grosvenor mine as well as 40 other high potential incidents relating to the principal hazard of methane,” Dr Lynham said.

They include 27 high potential incidents at Grosvenor involving exceedence of methane (more than 2.5 per cent) in and around the longwall between July 1 last year and May 5.

It will also cover 11 such high potential incidents at Grasstree mine, one at Moranbah North and one at Oaky North in the same timeframe.

Anglo American said today it was the largest underground coal miner in Queensland, operating in a methane rich area of the Bowen Basin.

“We proactively manage this methane through a number of measures, including the draining of gas before and during mining and the installation of extensive ventilation infrastructure,” a spokeswoman said.

“We exceed the regulatory requirements at our mines by having a higher number of methane sensors and have additional controls than what is specified in the regulations.

“Many of the High Potential Incidents (HPIs) reported to the Mines Inspectorate were from methane exceedances picked up by these additional sensors.”

The company says it will co-operate fully in the inquiry as ‘an opportunity to continue to improve the management of methane and safety in underground mining’.

Chief executive officer of Anglo American’s metallurgical coal business, Tyler Mitchelson said the company’s own technical investigation into the Grosvenor methane ignition incident was underway with industry experts.

“The safety of our people is what is most important.  We want answers as to why an ignition of methane occurred at Grosvenor mine and we understand that everyone else does too,” he said.

Dr Lynham said the board of inquiry would be able to conduct public hearings, call witnesses and make broad inquiries, findings and recommendations.

It will report by November 30 this year.

String of gas incidents under inquiry scrutiny

String of gas incidents under inquiry scrutiny