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Investors see NZ as 'too green' for coal projects: Bathurst

Investors see NZ as 'too green' for coal projects, Bathurst says

By Pattrick Smellie

Sept 3 (BusinessDesk) - Resource consents have cost would-be opencast coking coal miner Bathurst Resources $15 million so far, with a month of appeal hearings still to come and the potential for further challenges.

Bathurst chief executive Hamish Bohannan released the figure during in a speech to last week's AUSIMM mining industry conference in Queenstown, where reports suggest the mood of the mining community was sour on the environmental opposition and regulatory hurdles facing their industry.

The speech notes were released to the NZX today, coinciding with an 8.5 percent fall in the Bathurst share price to 43 cents, down almost two-thirds on the $1.22 a share high point seen in the last 12 months.

Bathurst has spent some $250 million to date developing its Buller Coal Project, to take high grade coking coal, used in steel-making, from the Denniston Plateau above Westport for export.

Bohannan has taken heat from his mainly Australian investor base, who were originally sold on the project because it involved world-class, high-value coal and was close to infrastructure, and its shares have sunk to around a third of their value at the highpoint.

He said New Zealand was gaining a reputation among foreign investors of being "too green" for resource projects.

The company received resource consents in August last year for the first stage of the project, the Escarpment mine, which is projected to produce one million tonnes of coal a year at its peak. However, appeals by local and environmental groups have been lodged, with Environment Court hearings due in late October, and a decision early next year.

Bohannan said investors expect environmental groups to "appeal any new mining decision" and believe that "New Zealanders on the whole oppose coal."

They also see the court system as creating "indefinite delays" with "no other option for consenting."

"The regulatory processes here are too complex," he says in his speech notes, which note the Escarpment initiative is now 18 months behind intended schedule, with mining next July the earliest likely start time.

Gold mining executives have also grumbled about the growing cost of mining in New Zealand at the conference, which came in the same week as state-owned coal miner Solid Energy announced it was moving away from high-cost underground mining to opencast operations, with the likely closure of the Spring Creek coalmine and a halt to development of its underground operation at Huntly East.


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