Solid Energy says it wants to buy Pike River

By Hayden Donnell

Flames and smoke rise from the ventilation shaft at the Pike River coal mine near Greymouth in November 2010. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Flames and smoke rise from the ventilation shaft at the Pike River coal mine near Greymouth in November 2010. Photo / Mark Mitchell

State owned mining company Solid Energy has revealed it wants to buy the Pike River Coal mine, pay off its unsecured creditors and recover the bodies of 29 men still trapped inside.

Receivers last week announced they are looking to sell the mine where 29 men were killed in an explosion on November 19 last year.

They confirmed there had already been a number of unsolicited expressions of interest in the sale.

Solid Energy, which operates several West Coast mines including the nearby Spring Creek Coal Mine, today announced it was one of those looking to buy the rights to extract the $6 billion of coal still at Pike River through a mixture of opencast and underground mining.

Chief executive Don Elder said recovering the 29 bodies still inside the mine would be a priority in that proposal.

It was committed to addressing the "many challenges" of making the mine economically viable while respecting the wishes of the families of the dead, he said.

"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. 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."

A statement from the Solid Energy said it would not necessarily use existing Pike River Coal Ltd assets and equipment for future mining.

That would leave only the coal permit and access agreements as primary assets.

Elder said the company's plan would include opencasting parts of the mine.

But that would be among the most difficult and challenging opencast operations anywhere in the world and would require years of planning, he said.

"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.

"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 claimed Solid Energy was the only operator with the West Coast mining experience 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."

Bernie Monk, who lost his 23-year-old son Michael Monk in the Pike River explosion, 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?

"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."

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