What’s Going On At Stockton?

Failed state-owned coal company Solid Energy may no longer be hitting the headlines, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on – far from it. And the consequences may be very serious.

Our sources on the West Coast tell us that between 15 and 20 groups of potential buyers, mainly from India, have been through Solid Energy’s big Stockton mine there.

We also know that Bathurst Resources, the Australian coal mining company that fled Australia and set up in New Zealand, and which has managed to make a fearful mess of the unique and biodiverse Denniston Plateau in the course of a largely failed attempt to extract coal from it at an economic price, is trying to buy Stockton.

Work on the Denniston Plateau has now stopped.

Work on the Denniston Plateau has now stopped – but the destruction wrought by Bathurst Resources remains.

Republic Investment Management of Singapore recently bought a 20% stake in Bathurst Resources, and they are seeking to acquire more, possibly with a view to taking a controlling interest. This has allowed Bathurst to raise funds in relation to “an impending NZ coal opportunity”, which we believe may be the attempted purchase of Stockton and other coal deposits which Solid Energy has the rights to but has not attempted to mine.

As the industry mouthpiece NZ Resources notes (24 June 2016), “for coal in NZ this is fire sale season”.

On one level, that’s a good sign: it reflects the parlous state of the coal industry both domestically and internationally, and the growing acknowledgment that King Coal, bruised and weakened but still dangerous, must be prised off his throne.

But fire sale season carries a high risk: with the backing of their mystery overseas investors, Bathurst – or one of the companies that has toured Stockton – might be able to take advantage of those fire sale prices to sweep up a bundle of former Solid Energy assets and bundle them with its own resources, such as the nearby Denniston mine.

Bundling Stockton, Happy Valley (adjacent and now being mined), the Escarpment mine on Denniston, and the proposed Te Kuha would create an asset large enough to interest a big overseas miner. Then, taking a cavalier approach to the environment and worker safety alike (as the record shows occurs in India), they might seek to claw what coal they can from the ground while there is still a buck to be made.

Whereas the coal industry in China has been in decline in recent years, in India , coal is still trying to expand. If we are not vigilant, we might end up with a future in which Indian steel mills and cut-rate New Zealand milk powder plants alike are supplied by coal made cheap enough to mine by Solid Energy’s past recklessness and the Government’s continued avoidance of real action on climate change.

This story has been hiding away in the shadows. It’s time for it to be brought into the light.

7 responses to “What’s Going On At Stockton?

  1. the coal industry in China has been in decline in recent years

    This is nothing to get excited about. Let’s put it into context: according to Statista, coal production in China declined slightly in each of the last two years, so production in 2015 was 3.6% lower than 2013. Hardly earth-shaking, and two years hardly sets a trend. But note this: the decline amounts to 96.6 million tonnes of coal—about 24 times what New Zealand produced in 2014.

    This suggests perhaps the pointlessness of campaigning against our minuscule coal industry. The two countries stand in stark contrast: China produced 2610 million tonnes of coal in 2015. That means it produced what takes us a year in about 14 hours. About half a day. Does the word ‘hubris’ occur to anyone? What about ‘futile’? Never mind the virtuous example we’d like to set (not that anyone will notice), China is escaping poverty.

    China is the rabbit and we are the lion. When the rabbit was asked how he managed to escape the lion, he explained he was running for his life; the lion was only running for his lunch.

  2. The argument that NZ has less coal use than China so NZ should just carry on burning is ridiculous. I don’t earn very much, so why shouldn’t I just leave tax paying to the big corporates and not pay tax myself. China’s coal consumption has peaked, which is a huge turnaround for the country and the result of efforts to curb pollution. NZ’s emissions continue to rise, and all we do about them is buy dodgy credits.

    • Consider why you want our use to decline: to fight climate change. By eliminating our entire annual consumption of coal (if you could) you wouldn’t make any difference to the climate, you’d just raise the price of electricity even more than before the ETS. Why put our economically disadvantaged citizens deeper into poverty for a literally useless gesture?

    • How do you know that China’s coal consumption has peaked? It’s only been a two-year decline of 3.5%. Sounds like wishful thinking.

  3. Elisabeth Mikkelsen

    The only way to change things is through how we vote next time.

  4. Foreign companies will have no concerns at all about New Zealand habitats and beautiful places. It is appalling that we still hock off our special places to these ghastly people.

    • Concerns don’t really come into it, since people will do the least required of them by local legislation. If foreign companies can damage land and water without penalty, local companies can do so, which means our regulations haven’t caught up yet with latest practices. I agree we must better protect our surroundings, but lobbying the government with a well-constructed case for environmental protection around mining could be more productive than simply expressing your xenophobia.

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