The drilling of roadways through a faulted, or graben, area of the Pike River Coal mine has pushed back the start of hydro-mining to June or July from the March quarter but the mine still expects its first export shipment to leave Lyttelton Port of Christchurch next month.

The mine in Department of Conservation-administered land outside Paparoa National Park on the West Coast has employed 150 people and intends to employ 10 more to support hydro-mining. Coal has been extracted to date by the machinery developing the mine.

The mine has experienced delays from a rockfall and from the need to drill through a graben area, now confirmed to be 150m wide.

Roadways have now been constructed through 106m of rock in the graben and work on getting through the graben is expected to be finished by next month.

Meantime there have been no further fault areas encountered in inseam drilling in the mine. One drill hole went 400m into the seam on the western boundary of the graben without intersecting any faulting.

The timing of the first hydro-mining is dependent on progress through the graben.

The delay in commissioning of hydro-mining will defer the mining of 120,000 to 150,000 tonnes of coal production to the September quarter.

The company has been storing coal at Ikamatua for transport by rail to Lyttelton. The first export shipment of 20,000 tonnes of coal will be worth about $3.4 million.

Coal prices are rising due to demand in China and the company noted reports that the price for premium hard coking coal could rise by 40 per cent in the year starting on April 1, 2010 compared to the current year.

The company has signalled that it needs more money for working capital and said an announcement was likely in the next few weeks.