MEnvironmentalists are calling for a halt to work on the
Denniston Plateau. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Plunging global coal prices has forced Bathurst Resources
to lay off staff, cut costs and postpone starting controversial
work on the Denniston Plateau, prompting environmentalists to
call for a halt to any work there.
The environmentalists want Conservation Minister Nick Smith
to stop any preparatory earthworks on the plateau, which
could include pre-stripping of topsoils and the landscape
Bathurst operates three boutique mines in the South Island,
for domestic supply, but the richest rewards lie in the yet
untouched Escarpment mine on the plateau above Westport.
However, the price for the specialist steel-making coking
coal found there has, in the past month, plunged to an
uneconomic $US120 ($NZ143) from a high of $US330 ($NZ395) per
tonne in 2012, the weakest it has been in nine years.
Bathurst shares, which enjoyed a record high $1.74 in April
2011, were yesterday slammed by investors, shedding more than
40% of their value, or 7c, to trade at an all time low of
9.5c. More than 1.5 million shares were sold.
Bathurst managing director Hamish Bohannan said yesterday
that because of the $US120 spot price, 29 staff would be laid
off and executives take a 30% pay cut in ''a proposal to cut
costs and preserve value'' in the Buller project, until final
Department of Conservation (Doc) approval was gained to start
''Bathurst is committed to commencing establishment of the
Escarpment mine as soon as [Doc] authority is granted, but
will defer ramping up production until such time as the
market is deemed to be recovering,'' Mr Bohannan said.
Environmentalists want Bathurst stopped from doing the
initial topsoil pre-stripping operations, required before
coal mining can begin.
Anti-mining group Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA)
yesterday called on Dr Smith not to issue Bathurst the Doc
consent it is waiting for, to enter and operate on the
Denniston Plateau, ''in light of the company's terrible
''Like Solid Energy, it's facing a `perfect storm' of tanking
coal prices and a strong New Zealand dollar, quite a
different situation from 2008, when the company started
sniffing around the West Coast for coking coal,'' CANA
spokeswoman Cindy Baxter said in a statement yesterday.
Forest and Bird, which tied Bathurst up in consenting
litigation for almost two years, called yesterday for it not
to start the ''destructive preparatory work'' on the plateau.
''It would be a tragedy if Bathurst defiled the Denniston
Plateau before its Australian investors decided they had had
enough of pouring good money after bad into this
fundamentally flawed project,'' Forest and Bird Top of the
South field officer Debs Martin said in a statement.
''This situation is entirely predictable. If a huge
government-backed company like Solid Energy is having trouble
making a go of coalmining on the West Coast, Bathurst will
never be able to,'' she said.
Although Bathurst would not carry out mining on the Denniston
Plateau until international prices recovered, it would go
ahead and set up in readiness to do so, Ms Baxter said.
''This could include the removal of the 'overburden', the
beautiful, biodiverse-rich landscape,'' she said.
Green Party mining spokesperson Catherine Delahunty joined
the fray, saying National's obsession with fossil fuels ''has
failed to create good jobs for New Zealanders''.
''If our largest employer, manufacturing, got even half the
attention that National lavishes on the jobs-poor mining
sector, we would have a lower unemployment rate and more
Kiwis in good jobs,'' she said.
Bathurst has spent more than $300 million on the project,
with only minimal cash flow from the boutique mines, and
while losing two years in fighting environmental challenges,
its share price has languished.
Mr Bohannan said Bathurst has consistently stated its
expected operating costs at Escarpment to range from about
$US120 tonne, on start-up, then reduce to less than $US90
tonne as production increased to about 1 million tonnes a
year from the plateau.
He said the focus for now would be on securing the site,
establishing facilities, including water management dams and
stockpile areas, and mining sufficient coal, from an existing
mine, to complete market qualification for coking coal supply
to steel producers, mainly in Japan and India.
Ms Baxter said the company should be forbidden to remove
''There is no way this company should go ahead with wrecking
the plateau, only to sit and wait until the coal price
improves, something international commodities commentators
are not forecasting to happen any time soon, due to an
oversupply in the market,'' she said.
''We could find ourselves in a situation where the company
goes under, having destroyed the beautiful Denniston Plateau,
for absolutely nothing,'' Ms Baxter said.
Mr Bohannan told the Otago Daily Times last week cash
in hand had fallen below $9 million, while Ms Baxter said
there was ''no way'' Bathurst would be able to front up ''any
time soon'' with the $22 million promised to Doc, in a deal
Dr Smith had made with the company.