Minister for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little says a manned re-entry into the drift could take place towards the end of next year - but only if safety risks can be properly mitigated.
Cabinet is today considering Little's recommendations on the membership and structure of the Pike River Re-Entry Agency, following yesterday's seventh anniversary of the disaster that took the lives of 29 men.
"If there is going to be a re-entry ... it'll be the back half of next year, and certainly we were saying at the anniversary yesterday that perhaps by this time next year we will have a different story to tell," Little told Radio NZ's Morning Report.
Little said the agency would consider the advice on whether a manned re-entry was possible, he said.
"There are risks, and most of those risks can be managed. If there is a possibility, then let's work towards that."
He said safety was the families' top priority, and his priority was involving the families in every decision, who had been kept at arm's length.
"They want safety to be the number one principle for the whole project."
He told the Weekend Herald he did not intend to legislate for any exemption to the health and safety laws or immunity from liability for the Pike River Agency.
"I'm confident we can do everything that's needed in terms of planning and preparation without it."
Little said there were several options for the Cabinet to consider, which ranged in cost from less than the $10 million National had set aside for Pike River to more costly and thorough options.
The former National government had rejected the families' pleas for a manned re-entry as too risky. Solid Energy had planned to fill the mine with concrete, but the families occupied the mine access road in January to prevent that happening and the plan was eventually abandoned.
At yesterday's ceremony, Little gave back to the families the keys to the gate that was erected to stop them going up the road to the mine.