The embattled Pike River Coal mine may have a future, following revelations New Zealand’s state-owned mining company Solid Energy want to purchase the coal mine.
The company’s desire to buy the mine would probably come as welcome news to the families of the 29 victims, as it plans to pay off the unsecured creditors and recover the bodies of the men trapped inside the mine.
Previously, families were “gutted” by a decision to seal the coal mine, amid dangerous toxicity levels inside, and opposed to the suggestion mining may continue at the site without a recovery.
Last week, receivers announced they were seeking buyers for the coal mine and have confirmed a number of unsolicited expressions of interest in the sale.
Solid Energy operated several West Coast mines including the nearby Spring Creek Coal mine and announced today it is one of the companies looking to buy the right to extract $6 billion of coal still located at Pike River, through underground and open cut mining.
Recovering the bodies entombed in the mine would be a first priority for the company, according to its chief executive Don Elder, and the company is committed to addressing the “many challenges” of making the mine economically viable and ensuring the wishes of the victims families are also met.
"As a non-negotiable part of that, the wishes of the families have to be a priority in considering all options including potential recovery, if feasible, of the 29 miners’ bodies,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
“The same applies to the unsecured creditors on the West Coast; any solution to invest in and work the mine needs to address that issue as a top priority."
Solid Energy released a statement which said it would not necessarily use the existing Pike Rover Coal Ltd assets and equipment for future mining.
That would leave only the coal permit and access agreements as the main assets and Elder said the company’s plan would include open cut mining for parts of the site.
The consideration to do open cut mining at Pike River was met with criticism from New Zealand’s ACT political party over the weekend.
ACT leader Rodney Hide said the death of the 29 men in the underground mine was a waste and could have been avoided if the mine was made open cut previously.
Elder said turning Pike River into an open cut mine would be one of the most difficult and challenging operations in the world and would require years of planning.
"We believe this resource is not characterised, nor is the geology understood, to anywhere near the level required in these conditions, even in the areas already mined,’ he said.
"If the value in this total coal resource is ever to be realised, it will only be through a very carefully planned and developed long-term integration of underground and opencast mining.
“Anything other than this will risk sterilising a significant part of this valuable coal resource."
He said Solid Energy is the only operator with enough experience mining on the West Coast to make Pike River economically viable again.
"The West Coast of New Zealand is the most difficult coal mining environment in New Zealand, by far. We’ve spent the last 110 years learning that, often the hard way."
Spokesman for the families Bernie Monk said he was pleased recovering bodies was part of the Solid Energy proposal.
He warned receivers of a backlash from the West Coast mining community if they sold Pike River to a company that wanted to extract coal without a recovery operation.
"Are they putting dollars before getting out men out?” he asked.
"I’m all for Solid Energy but if they’re going to bring in a firm from somewhere else that’s not going to get the bodies out then the Coasters won’t rush to them, I tell you that."
Image: Science Media Centre