Australian-owned company Bathurst Resources is eyeing up a large section of the South Canterbury hinterland as a potential site for coal mining.
Recently, Herald photographers spotted work near Guy Sutherland's property at a disused pit near Coal Pit Rd in Albury.
Bathurst Resources' corporate relations general manager Sam Aarons confirmed it had applied for exploration permits in the Mackenzie District, with a view to further investigation of its viability.
"It's early days yet. We're not inclined to sit on permits for too long without doing anything," she said. "If we get an exploration permit, we'll be able to narrow it down a bit - obviously the prospecting permit covers a much larger area than where our actual mining activities would be."
Crown Minerals granted Bathurst subsidiary Rochfort Coal Ltd a prospecting permit for an 836 sq km area that runs from the Two Thumb Range south to the Hunters Hills.
The prospecting permit was granted in October 2010, but Ms Aarons said the company had recently been more focused on its operations in Southland.
"You need to do all sorts of assessments and preparatory work before you actually decide to mine. It could take several years."
Should the exploration permit be granted it could take up to five years to do the work - including drilling, bulk sampling and mine feasibility studies - before Crown Minerals made a decision on whether it would receive a full mining permit for the site.
She said the company had already done a lot of early due diligence work before it began work in the Albury area.
Bathurst Resources' subsidiary Eastern Coal operates the Takitimu thermal coal mine in Southland and a coal distribution centre in Timaru.
The mine provides coal for South Island businesses, including Energy for Industry's Washdyke plant.
"Provided it is used under sound environmental regulations, coal remains a very efficient form of energy in terms of cost, as the country moves towards more renewable sources," Ms Aarons said.
- The Timaru Herald