Some planned, possible or postponed minerals projects got a good hearing at the 2016 AusIMM New Zealand Branch Conference. By NEIL RITCHIE.
Bathurst Resources chief executive Richard Tacon sounded positive when talking about the likely resurrection of plans to develop the open-cast Escarpment coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, inland from Westport.
Recent coal price increases, with the best grades having gained over 50 percent since February, meant the proposed development of Escarpment’s hard coking coal now looked more likely.
“The Buller Project is definitely not dead, especially with the coal price heading [upwards] … I think the spot price today was $158 [per tonne] and we are doing some cashflow modelling around that now,” he said.
“With a view to that coal price, we anticipate talking to our major stakeholders in the very near future.”
But Tacon cautioned that higher coal prices needed to look sustainable before Bathurst would make any final investment decision.
Overseas media reports suggest that metallurgical coking coal contracts look set for the longest run of gains since quarterly deals were introduced in 2010 as China cuts output and raises steel production.
Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) applications manager Richard Johnson acknowledged that making an application to the EPA was “complicated” and similar to the Resource Management Act, with the best practice to initially engage with communities and affected parties, though that was not a regulatory requirement.
He cited the recent re-application by Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) for a permit to take iron sands from part of the Taranaki Bight, with the EPA yet to formally accept it as an application and begin the consenting process. The EPA turned down TTR’s first application after the company had spent about $66 million on research and development.
He said TTR had identified 13 different activities for which it needed permission. These included such things as ship anchoring and vibration, operating sea bed machinery, and for the plumes caused from spoil disposal from both ship and sea bed machinery.
In a separate case, the EPA also turned down Chatham Rock Phosphate’s initial application to mine phosphate from the offshore Chatham Rise after that company had spent about $30 million preparing its case.
And Johnson admitted that the matter of issuing consents for any seabed mining in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone was an inexact science.
Consultant and Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) director Robin Falconer also gave a well-received address about the same project entitled “Chatham Rise – will 50 years of effort succeed?”
He said phosphate from the Chatham Rise was “strategic” for New Zealand’s economy as it could displace imported Moroccan phosphate and potentially also be an export earner.
CRP wants to suction up phosphate nodules from the seafloor at depths up to 450 metres on the top of the Chatham Rise, taking 1.5 million tonnes per year.
Though separate projects, Falconer said CRP had been working with TTR and would continue to do so. He also noted capital raising was difficult at present but said, “this is still a do-able project” and could be operational by 2020.
Finally, senior AusIMM member Michael Buckenham, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the NZ branch of AusIMM, recalled the loss some time ago of the Otago School of Mines and the later failed attempt to replicate it in Auckland.
Though a lot of geology, geoscience and mining engineering students graduated from University of Auckland, many young Aucklanders considered mining a dirty or unpopular business. He said that had the Otago School of Mines been retained, there would have been a stronger national mining culture.
Then the mines inspectorate might not have been downgraded and neglected to the point where there was only one mines inspector for the whole country when the Pike River mining disaster occurred in late 2010 and 29 men died.
Buckenham was awarded this year’s prestigious Lloyd Jones Award at the conference dinner.