Australian company mines its own business as it pushes forward with controversial open cast plans

It seems almost every other month there’s a new case of a mining company seeking consent to mine picturesque Kiwi locations. Bathurst Resources, an Australian company backed by Chinese money, is the latest company to seek resource consent for land in New Zealand, this time eyeing up a new coal mine on the Denniston plateau on the West Coast of the South Island. And as can be expected, there is strong opposition to the open cast mine, in spite of the proposed economic benefits to the West Coast community, put forward by Bathurst.

According to a story on  last month, the company announced it had acquired private coal permits near its Escarpment project and Cascade mine on the Denniston Plateau, reaching an agreement to purchase tenements from Robert Griffiths alongside private company Brookdale Mining Ltd NZ. The purchase reportedly covers 341.6 hectares and is worth NZ$14.9 million cash, as well as shares in Bathurst and life-of-mine royalty. And while there's strong opposition to the mine, Bathurst is quick to point out the positives which includes the creation of 400 jobs and an injection of $200 million into the West Coast economy. In an interview on TVNZ's Breakfast Buller District mayor Pat McManus echoed this sentiment, saying the mining operation has the potential to lad New Zealand out of recession.

The West Coast Environment Network (WCEN), who is apposed to the plans, says it has obtained technical reports from the Department of Conservation released under the Official Information Act, stating that the mine would create industrial enclaves within a large area of public conservation land, destroy and fragment intact vegetation associations, and perpetuate the decline of rare and endangered species. WCEN says the reports also confirm that restoration of this nationally significant ecosystem back to its original state would be impossible. 

But it says DOC didn't attend the resource consent hearing earlier this week, despite the proposed coal mine and associated facilities being entirely on public conservation land. 

“When you read the reports it's clear this mine shouldn't go ahead and that DOC's position is based more on politics than science,” says West Coast Environment Network spokesperson Karen Mayhew. 

“When the Government backed down on Schedule 4, Gerry Brownlee declared open slather on the rest of the conservation estate. But that wasn't what New Zealanders were saying – people don't want vast tracts of rare ecosystems dug up for coal.”

Coal Action Network (CAN), who is also strongly apposed to the mine, says the mine will be both a climate and ecological disaster. Spokesperson Frances Mountier is urging the Minister of Conservation to not give approval for the mine, based on the impact it will have on biodiversity. 

“We have to leave the coal in the hole in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. During his recent tour of New Zealand, pre-eminent climate scientist Dr James Hansen criticised the National Government for their plans to expand coal mining in this country. We need to heed his warning, and save the Denniston Plateau,” says Mountier. 

But if Bathurst's day in court proves successful, the company’s chief executive Hamish Bohannan said in April this year he’d expect work to start on the Escarpment Mining Project late this year.

It was only recently that Greywolf Goldmining applied for permits to allow it to drill the seabed for oil and gas, as well as to prospect for coal in Golden Bay. Of course, that news was met with a healthy chorus of opposition.

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