Pike River opencast mining considered
Solid Energy is trying to change its mining permit to investigate ways to make money out of the defunct Pike River coalmine, including opencast mining.
A spokesman said today that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was still weighing up its application to "rationally consider all potential methods of delivering value from the resource".
Once it had investigated the various options, the state-owned enterprise would decide whether to continue its work at the mine or surrender its permit, the Solid Energy spokesman said.
No mining by any method would start within 10 years if the permit variation application was approved, he said.
"The company's application expresses no preference for any potential mining method. When Solid Energy bought the assets of the former Pike River Coal from the receivers in July 2012, we inherited a permit, which we did not consider to be credible."
In July 2011, former Solid Energy chief executive Dr Don Elder criticised the mine's original owners, Pike River Coal Ltd, for its inadequate knowledge of the mine's resources while he gave evidence at the Royal Commission into the November 2010 explosion that killed 29 men.
The ministry confirmed today it was considering Solid Energy's application to investigate a range of potential future mining options at Pike River, including opencast mining.
However, it said it was not a proposal to opencast mine at the site.
Only underground coal mining was allowed under the current permit, which would expire in September 2037.
Pike never sought to opencast mine at the site about 50km north-east of Greymouth.
Solid Energy's access agreement with the Department of Conservation also excluded opencast mining.
The underground West Coast mine is on conservation land and partly within Paparoa National Park. Mining is banned on schedule four conservation land, including national parks, but it is allowed in some conservation areas.
Last July, ministerial consent was granted for Solid Energy to buy Pike's assets, which included transferring its coalmining permit and petroleum exploration permit for coal seam gas at the mine.
At the time, Solid Energy signed a body recovery deed stating it would commit to take all reasonable steps to recover the men's remains in conjunction with commercial mining operations "provided that can be achieved safely, is technically feasible and is financially credible".
Spokesman for most Pike families, Bernie Monk, said today he had never heard Solid Energy suggest it wanted to opencast mine at Pike River.
He said opencast mining was possible at parts of the site, but families would oppose it if it went ahead without their loved ones' bodies being recovered.
"If they were just doing it to opencast and not even thinking about getting the men out, we're not even going there."
West Coast-based Green Party list MP, Kevin Hague, called for Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges to clearly state the Government would stick to promises to protect the mining ban in national parks.
One of the country's largest protests in decades erupted in Auckland in 2010 after the Government proposed allowing mining in schedule four conservation land, forcing it to dump its plans.