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Birchfield plans ‘revival’

Birchfield plans ‘revival’
Birchfield Coal has bought the old Liverpool and Strongman mines on the West Coast.

The thermal mines acquired by Birchfield Coal Mines Ltd from the collapsed state-owned collier Solid Energy could be back supplying New Zealand customers as early as May, but the export coking coal mines will take a little longer to get back into production, company director Allan Birchfield told Mining NZ.

Birchfield Coal has bought the old Liverpool and Strongman mines on the West Coast of the South Island, and is committed to getting both working again.

The company currently operates the Rotokohu coal measures in the Giles Creek Basin near Reefton, supplying clean-burning and low-sulphur sub-bituminous coals to industrial, agricultural and service users in the South Island. It acquired the two historic mines in the fire sale that followed Solid Energy’s crash in the wake of the collapse of coking coal prices two years ago.

The Strongman mine started production in 1938, and ceased underground work after an explosion killed 19 miners in 1967.

Between 2001 and 2003 Strongman operated as an open-cast mine.

The Liverpool mine in the old Kimball Block opened in 1913 but ceased production in in 1984. Both mines will be re-opened as opencast operations.

Birchfield Coal Mines is a three-generations family company owned by siblings Allan, Karen, Evan and Gary Birchfield, and employs about 20 people at Rotokohu.

Allan and Gary Birchfield also own gold and aggregate mines on the West Coast, including the Grey River gold dredge which is laid up and on the market.

While thermal coal production from the new mines is close to resumption, Allan Birchfield said no date has yet been set for a re-start of coking coal production for the export market, in part because the company is waiting for the global price to pick itself up off the carpet.

The Giles Creek mine started up in 1984 and currently produces about 500,000 tonnes of thermal coal a year.

Solid Energy went into voluntary administration in 2015, after it had been
encouraged by then Prime Minister John Key’s government to borrow extensively for an ambitious expansion programme that included transforming Southland’s vast lignite fields into transport fuels.

The company then fell victim to the delayed effects of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.

Birchfield said his company’s purchase of Liverpool and Strongman, and the purchase of Stockton by Phoenix Coal, which is jointly owned by Bathurst Resources and the food-producing Talley Group of Nelson, promised a revival of the coal industry on the West Coast.