Anglo American has confirmed an ignition of methane took place at the Grosvenor underground coal mine in central Queensland last week.
Five employees were injured and being treated at the Royal Brisbane burns unit after receiving medical assistance at Moranbah Hospital.
The mine has been evacuated and operations remained suspended as Anglo American set out to investigate the cause of the accident.
Anglo American’s chief executive of metallurgical coal, Tyler Mitchelson said the company’s focus was on supporting his injured colleagues and their families to ensure they had everything they needed.
“I have been with some of our team at the mine today. There is a great deal of shock and concern for our colleagues, and we are providing all the assistance we can,” he said.
“I would like to thank everyone who has helped over the past 24 hours – the people on site, the mines rescue teams and all of the incredible medical personnel who have taken care of the five injured men and their families.
“We will work through this step by step with the authorities to understand what went wrong, drawing on the best possible expert advice.”
All remaining on site personnel have been accounted for. Anglo American employs more than 800 employees and contractors at Grosvenor.
The company has re-entered the mine after reconnecting its gas monitoring equipment, restoring power underground and pumping excess water from the mine.
“(On Sunday) we commenced a staged re-entry into the mine to be able to safely access the longwall area where the incident occurred and begin our expert technical investigation (on Monday),” Mitchelson said.
“Our investigation will draw on industry experts, including in the areas of methane and ventilation management, and forensic fire analysis.
“We will not recommence mining until we know what happened and how we can prevent it happening again.”
As part of the re-entry, some of the Grosvenor workforce will start work in other areas of the mine complex, where work is essential for the ongoing safety and integrity of the mine.
“It would not be right for us or anyone else to comment on the circumstances leading up to this incident, as this will all form part of the thorough expert investigation. It is therefore very premature for anyone to speculate on the causes of this particular incident,” Mitchelson said.
Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane agreed, saying that no one knew precisely what happened at the Grosvenor mine last week.
“The QRC will cooperate with the independent board of inquiry into the Grosvenor mine incident announced by the state government (on Monday),” he added.
“There is no higher priority than safety for QRC and our member companies.”
The board of inquiry will be headed by a retired judge or Queens Counsel, according to the Queensland Government.
Queensland’s Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said the board would be able to conduct public hearings, call witnesses and make broad inquiries, findings and recommendations relating to the underground gas explosion that occurred at the Grosvenor.
“Last week’s underground gas explosion is something the industry has not experienced for more than quarter of a century,” he said.
“An underground gas explosion in a coal mine is simply unacceptable in the 21st century.
“The inquiries that followed the underground gas explosions at Moura changed mine safety in Queensland. This latest board of inquiry is an opportunity to continue this government’s sweeping reforms to protect mine workers.”
The Grosvenor mine is a longwall metallurgical coal operation that began producing in 2016.
Anglo American produced 540,900 tonnes at Grosvenor during the March quarter, a 47 per cent drop from the over a million tonnes produced in the previous quarter due to a longwall move.
It has a nameplate capacity of 7.5 million tonnes a year and a mine life in excess of 30 years.