Solid Energy has announced plans for a new underground and open-cast coal mine employing up to 150 people, inland from Spring Creek Mine on the West Coast.
The news was well-received in Greymouth this morning, with hopes it will bring the town a much-needed boost after the Pike River Mine disaster.
Solid Energy said the proposed new Liverpool Mine, uphill from the old mining township of Rewanui, would complement, not replace, the Spring Creek underground mine at Dunollie. Potentially, it would provide jobs for 15-20 years.
If exploration goes well the new mine could be producing coal as early as 2014 or 2015, from a series of small open-cast and underground mines.
The State-owned enterprise has applied to the Grey District Council and West Coast Regional Council for resource consents to explore what it says is a "substantial resource of export-grade hard coking coal".
If the exploration consents are granted and the next phase of feasibility assessment supports further investment, Solid Energy will seek mining consents next year.
It declined to say how much the exploration would cost.
Chief operating officer Barry Bragg said work so far suggested a combined underground and open-cast mining operation over 15 to 20 years, producing up to 500,000 tonnes a year of hard coking coal for the international steel market.
"Once the mining consents are secured and our feasibility studies continue to point to a favourable outcome, we think Liverpool could provide jobs for up 120 to 150 people, and produce saleable coal from 2014-15.
"The Liverpool coals would complement those produced by the nearby Spring Creek underground mine and Stockton open-cast mine in Buller, increasing our export coking coal portfolio for the international market."
The Liverpool project, within Solid Energy's Mount Davy mining permit in the Upper Seven Mile Valley, is in an area which was mined from 1913 until 1985. In recent years, Solid Energy has intensified exploration in the area and now has five drill rigs working on it.
In the 2011 financial year, the company financed a 40-hole programme which delivered more than 9400m of drilling. The consent application says ground drilling has not provided all the answers Solid Energy wants.
A 600m exploration tunnel at the northern extent of the old Liverpool 1 Mine would let staff assess the frequency of faulting, and have a good look at the strata.
Upper Seven Mile is about 8.5km from Dunollie. A 2.5km-long gravel access road would be required, but it would not be visible from most public viewpoints, including State highway 6, Rapahoe, Dunollie or Runanga.
The Rewanui area was first explored in 1906, a horsedrawn tramway was started in 1907, and before long the Liverpool No 1 Mine had started, followed by No 2 and No 3.
The regional council received the exploration application last week and Solid Energy has asked that it be non-notified.
Spring Creek Mine employs 130 staff and 20 contractors.