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Coal is in a deep dark hole, let’s keep it there

Coal is in a deep dark hole, let’s keep it there

Coal Action Network Aotearoa have been hearing rumblings about a new coal mine being developed just 10km from Westport, on the West Coast of the South Island of Aotearoa. Given that the rest of the world is moving away from mining coal, it seems ludicrous that anyone is seriously considering pushing ahead with this crazy venture. So who is it, and what are their plans?

The proposed Te Kuha mine is a joint venture between Stevenson Group and Rangitira Developments. So at least this venture has some experience of coal mining going into it (unlike Bathurst Resources on Denniston). Stevenson Group are the largest coal mining contractors in Aotearoa, and they just lost the contract in Takitimu, Southland after being shut down by Worksafe due to unsafe Health & Safety procedures on site. So Stevenson’s have a whole heap of idle equipment which I am guessing they are keen to deploy, least it lay unused.

According to the Greymouth Star 28th July, 2014, the total mining lease area covers 860ha, with the mine footprint proposed to be in 70ha of that. A DOC report to the West Coast Conservation Board in Hokitika on Friday, 25th July, 2014 said that two concessions have been received for 14 hectares of stewardship land and 1.59km of haul road (also on stewardship land). This report has been requested under the Official Information Act but no response has been forthcoming, from either DOC or the Conservation Board. It should be in the public record because it is public land, and we have an interest in what goes on in stewardship land. When will DOC allow the public to have their say over the land that is held in stewardship? None of the relevant councils have received any resource consents for applications, but if they were to, I would certainly hope that they would be publicly notified applications.

Because CANA have not been able to access this public information, we are not entirely sure of the location of the proposed mine. Forest & Bird have commented that they believe the land to have high conservation value. There have been previous attempts to mine this area over many years. In 2001, the Buller District Council voted 6-5 against poisoning their water supply (and allowing the coal mine to go ahead). If the coal mine had gone ahead, it would have had significant costs to the Westport township’s water supply and this seems to be have the reason that the council voted against it.

Stevenson’s are strutting their supposedly local credentials (despite being based in Auckland) and claiming obliviousness to the global price of coal. How can any company be immune to the increasingly depressing future of coal? With the grim situation at nearby Stockton coal mine (operated by Solid Energy), layoffs at Spring Creek, and Bathurst Resources being so desperate for cash that they’re getting rid of managers and pruning their board, coal mining is on the ropes in New Zealand. CANA have contributed to the conversation around ensuring that there is a just transition for the workers. The head in the sand approach to the looming stranded asset disaster that awaits coal companies is wishful thinking and needs to be put into context. These companies don’t seem to care about the workers; they don’t care about the climate, and need to be stopped.

Looking at recent pictures of Happy Valley, we have a coal company Solid Energy, that have belligerently insisted on starting coal mining and destroying a valuable ecosystem. This pig headedness is despite it being totally uneconomic, and pointless. The diggers have stopped, the kiwi are gone, and for what? So that a coal company can led the workers on a merry goose chase with fingers crossed that it might work out? It is the height of irresponsibility.

Let’s not let such a future await this Te Kuha stewardship land. Ours, not mine.


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