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Bathurst despatches first load of Buller coal

Friday 30th September 2011

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Bathurst Resources has despatched its first export coal from the Cascade mine on the West Coast’s Denniston Plateau, with the first shipment through Westport due in November.

While Bathurst faces inevitable delays as local and environmental groups are appealing resource consents granted for its proposed Escarpment mine, the company has effectively met its previously stated deadline of first shipments before the end of 2011 with the despatch from Cascade, which it acquired as a working mine when it bought Eastern Resources mines earlier this year.

Bathurst chief executive Hamish Bohannan told BusinessDesk the company also expects to make its first shipment from the nearby Brookdale mine, also acquired this year from a local entrepreneur, in January next year.

The first coal from Cascade was a specialty order and was sent to Lyttelton for shipment to Fremantle for use in specialised high-temperature production in the ferro-silicon industry.

However, Bathurst will not be green-lighting its intended investment of around $40 million to upgrade port facilities at Westport before it completes resource consent and Department of Conservation agreements that are necessary to begin mining at the Escarpment site.

With Escarpment in production, Bathurst hopes to be exporting one million tonnes of high quality coking coal, rising to two million tonnes annually from its southern Buller interests, with another two million tonnes annually possible from prospective sites in northern parts of the Denniston Plateau.

The Escarpment resource consents are being challenged on environmental grounds by the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and West Coast Environmental Action Network, with a separate appeal relating to coal-handling facility operating standards received from a residents association in the settlement of Fairdown, below the plateau.

Bohannan said he was optimistic agreements could be reached with the Fairdown residents, but was less certain that a mutually acceptable agreement could be reached with the environmental objectors, who are opposing the impact of the open-cast mining operation on the Denniston Plateau’s barren but fragile ecology, and the impact of burning coal on climate change.

However, Bathurst was committed to offering a plan for its southern Buller holdings – the roughly contiguous Cascade, Brookdale, Escarpment and Whareatea mines – that balanced the high value of the Buller coking coal, community economic benefits and jobs, the environmental impact of its mining, and the historical significance of the area, which has been extensively mined since the 19th century.

The Escarpment site "is not wilderness,” said Bohannan.

The plan for the southern Buller sought to meet environmental groups’ concerns about the whole area, even though Bathurst’s mining plans related to only a small area.

“A holistic plan should deal with that,” he said. “As a socially responsible company, we recognise we need to come out as quickly as we can with a plan made in conjunction with our stakeholders. The old days of ‘I win, you lose’ aren’t acceptable. We all want a fantastic environment for future generations.”

“This is an opportunity to do something differently. We hope in the next six months we will have enough work completed to say ‘this makes sense, let’s get to Escarpment’.”

On the climate change objections, Bohannan said Bathurst’s project was “the wrong target.”

Its Buller coal was high-grade, high value fuel used in steel-making, for which there was no current alternative.

“There’s no way you’d burn this stuff in a power station,” he said. “It’s far too valuable.”

Bathurst is already employing some 70 staff both as miners at Cascade and Brookdale, and in developing its wider plans.

While it has similar plans for holdings in the northern Buller, those are at a prospecting stage for now.

Solid Energy also mines coking coal on the Denniston plateau at the Stockton mine.

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