New Zealand and coal

From Global Energy Monitor
This article is part of the Global Energy Monitor coverage of coal and power industry data

This article is part of a collection on coal projects in New Zealand developed with Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA).

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New Zealand is a small coal producer and consumer. In 2019, it produced 3 million tonnes.[1]

Coal Resources

New Zealand has extensive, well-explored coal resources in both the North and South Islands. It has been estimated that there are total resources of over 15 billion tonnes of coal, of which some 8.6 billion tonnes are economically recoverable. 80% of this is South Island lignites. In 2011 New Zealand exported more than 2.1 million tonnes of the 4.9 million tonnes of coal produced. State-owned company, Solid Energy, is responsible for over 80% of national production, 93% of which is of bituminous and sub-bituminous coal. [2] In 2012, however, the fall in global demand and prices for coking coal resulted in major operational and staffing cutbacks for the company, which until then had been undergoing a period of expansion and diversification.

New Zealand coal resources are located mainly in the Waikato and Taranaki regions of the North Island, and the West Coast, Otago and Southland regions of the South Island. According to the World Energy Council, total in situ coal resources are estimated at around 15 billion tonnes, more than half of which is potentially recoverable.[2]

New Zealand’s economically recoverable coal reserves are estimated by the Ministry of Economic Development at 8.6 billion tonnes (Energy Data File). Of this, 80% (6.8BT) is lignite in Southland and Central Otago. The rest is 5% high quality bituminous (coking) coal on the West Coast and 15% sub-bituminous or thermal coal in the Waikato, West Coast and Southland. [3]

Resource Details

Category Reserve Classification Quantity Units Data Year
BGR Estimate Reserves 7,575[1] million tonnes 2019
BGR Estimate Resources 6,950[1] million tonnes 2019
Geological Survey Reserves 8,643[4] million tonnes 1994
Geological Survey Resources 15,563[4] million tonnes 1994
Commercial Reserves Reserves million tonnes
Commercial Resources Resources million tonnes

Coal production

In March 2012 the Ministry of Economic Development listed four underground and 15 opencast operational mines with granted permits. [5] According to the Ministry, over 58% of national production in 2011 was from two large opencast operations, at Rotowaro near Huntly and Stockton on the West Coast. The government owned mining company Solid Energy was responsible for over 82% of national production and a number of smaller private coal mining companies produced the remainder. [6]

The New Zealand coal mining industry produced 4.9 million tonnes in 2011 of which 0.32 million tonnes were lignite. 1.8 million tonnes were produced from Waikato mines, including supplies for the Huntly Power Station, which consumed around 0.7 million tonnes, and the Glenbrook Steel Mill of New Zealand Steel, which consumed approximately 0.8 million tonnes. Electricity generation accounted for 39% of domestic coal use. However, this fluctuates considerably as all four units at the power station are able to run on coal or gas. The third largest user, by a considerable margin, is Fonterra in its milk drying plants, particularly in the South Island. Other industrial uses include cement and lime production; food processing; and timber and paper production. Commercial use (2%) was mainly for heating public buildings such as schools and hospitals. [7]

Coal exports

Historically, most coal production in New Zealand was for the domestic market. However, in response to high global prices -- especially for coking coal -- in the Asian market, export production increased between 1990 and 2006, but by 2011 was back below the 2003 level. [2] In most recent years roughly half of total coal production has been exported. West Coast coking coal is exported to India, Japan, China and Brazil for steel making; thermal coal is also exported for power stations.

Coal Mines

In 2010 the Ministry of Economic Development listed five underground and 16 opencast mines operating. However, since then there have been several changes of ownership and mines closed.[8] According to the Ministry of Economic Development over 59% of national production was from two large opencast operations, at Rotowaro and Stockton. The government owned mining company Solid Energy was, according to the Ministry, "responsible for over 82% of national production. A number of smaller private coal mining companies produced the remainder." [9]

The Ministry of Economic Development's list of operating coal mines in New Zealand has been updated and and closed mines excluded and listed in a separate table below.

Columns may be sorted by clicking on the symbol next to the headers.

Mine Operator Type of coal Type of mine Status Private coal (no permit) Production (tonnes per year)
Cypress mine Solid Energy Bituminous Opencast infrastructure development for the mine is currently underway
approx 500,000
Kopako mine Glencoal Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Huntly East mine Solid Energy Sub-bituminous Underground Operating
O'Reillys mine O'Reilly's Opencast Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Rotowaro Opencast Mine Solid Energy Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
1,500,000 - 1,900,000
Stockton mine Solid Energy Bituminous Opencast Operating
Cascade mine Bathurst Resources Bituminous Opencast Operating
New Creek mine New Creek Mining Bituminous Opencast Operating
Rockies mine Rockies Mining Bituminous Opencast Operating
Burkes Creek mine RJ Banks Sub-bituminous Underground Operating
Reddale mine Solid Energy Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Echo mine Francis Mining Bituminous Opencast Operating
Giles Creek mine Birchfield Coal Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Berlins Creek mine Heaphy Mining Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Spring Creek mine Solid Energy Bituminous Underground Operation suspended
Strongman mine Solid Energy Bituminous Opencast Operating
Roa mine ROA Mining Company Bituminous Underground Operating
Malvern Hills mine Canterbury Coal Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Castle Hill mine Kai Point Coal Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Harliwich mine Harliwich Carrying Company Lignite Opencast Operating
Takitimu Mine Bathurst Resources Sub-bituminous Opencast Operating
Ohai mine Solid Energy Sub-bituminous Opencast Minor production during close-down rehabilitation
New Vale mine Solid Energy Lignite Opencast Operating
Terrace mine Crusader Coal Sub-bituminous Underground Operating

Major expansion plans

Mineral resource extraction is a central plank of the current government’s economic strategy. There has been a period of expansion in the coal mining industry but 2012 has been a period of uncertainty, especially for New Zealand’s biggest producer, Solid Energy. The company plans to expand its operations on the Stockton Plateau by opening Mount William North Mine but by September 2012 resource consents were still under appeal. The Australian based company, Bathurst Resources, has been granted resource consents for its proposed Escarpment mine on the Denniston Plateau, as part of the Buller Coal Project, but these consents are likewise still under appeal. Production of thermal coal for industrial heat and power stations is increasing in Southland where the pilot Mataura Lignite Briquetting Plant is expected to open in October 2012, squeezing the water out of lignite to make a boiler fuel that is more economically transported. There are also plans for conversion of lignites to fertilizers and fuels.

New underground technologies are beginning, with very large areas under prospecting licences for coal seam methane. A coal seam gas demonstration plant has been operating on Solid Energy’s Huntly coalfield but this development work has now been shifted to Taranaki.

Solid Energy is pursuing the development of other unconventional coal projects. The Huntly Underground Coal Gasification Pilot Plant, a commercial trial of underground coal gasification on private land within its Huntly coal lease, was commissioned in 2012. On 29 August Solid Energy announced that it was planning to move more rapidly with the commercial development of this project.

Proposed coal mines and potential coal-related projects

Project Operator Type of coal Type of mine Status Proposed commissioning date Proposed production (tonnes per year)
Blackburn coal project Bathurst Resources Bituminous Opencast early exploration stage any development would be after 2015
Coalbrookdale mine Bathurst Resources Bituminous Underground initially proposed to be followed by an open cut project Underground project approved Early 2013
Deep Creek mine Bathurst Resources Bituminous Open cut Late exploration stage, no applications submitted for mine approval 2014
approx 1,000,000
Escarpment mine Bathurst Resources Hard coking coal Open cast Approvals granted but under appeal by environmental groups 2013
Huntly Underground Coal Gasification Pilot Plant Solid Energy Sub-bituminous Underground Pilot plant
pilot plant to run for 18 months to 2 years
Kopako coal project Solid Energy Bituminous Opencast Trial production
L&M Energy Kaitangata Coal Seam Gas exploration project L&M Energy Coal seam gas Early exploration
L&M Energy's Ohai Coal Seam Gas Pilot Project L&M Energy Coal seam gas Test well underway
L&M Energy South Canterbury Coal Seam Gas exploration project L&M Energy Coal seam gas Exploration
L&M Energy Waiau Coal Seam Gas exploration project L&M Energy Coal seam gas permit area adjoins L&M Energy's Ohai Coal Seam Gas Pilot Project
L&M Canterbury coal prospect L&M Group Lignite/sub-bituminous licence applied for
L&M Kaitangata coal prospect L&M Group Lignite/sub-bituminous early exploration
L&M Maramarua coal prospect L&M Group sub-bituminous exploration
Liverpool mine Solid Energy Bituminous Opencast feasibility study underway
500,000 tonnes
Mataura Lignite Briquetting Plant Solid Energy Lignite Commissioned as a pilot plant for a larger export project
possible export project commissioned in 2014
Millerton mine Solid Energy hard coking coal Opencast commissioning 2012?
Millerton North coal project Bathurst Resources Sub-bituminous Opencast early exploration stage any development would be after 2015
New Brighton Collieries Ohai coal prospect L&M Group sub-bituminous exploration
No 2 South coal project Solid Energy hard coking coal exploration stage
North Buller coal project Bathurst Resources Bituminous Opencast early exploration stage any development would be after 2015
Panirau Mine Mokau South Resources Thermal coal Opencast Application to Waikato Regional Council notified 15/12/15; submissions due 2/2/16
approx 300,000
Rapahoe East mine Solid Energy Bituminous underground commissioning 2012
Solid Energy Taranaki export coal project Solid Energy sub-bituminous unknown early exploration stage
Solid Energy Tihiroa underground coal gasification project Solid Energy underground coal gasification exploration
Solid Energy Eastern Southland coal-to-urea project Solid Energy Lignite Opencast Pre-feasibility studies
2016/2017 "if business case stacks up"
Te Kuha mine Te Kuha General Partner Limited - opencast - -
100,000 - 300,000 tonnes per year
Whareatea West coal project Bathurst Resources Bituminous Opencast Exploration

Coal mining and New Zealand law

Coal prospecting, exploration and mining, and environmental consenting are governed by the Crown Minerals Act 1991 [10] and the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991.[11]

Minerals permits for prospecting, exploration and mining are obtained from the Ministry of Economic Development, Crown Minerals Division. All permits are mapped and available online. [12]

There is no public input into the process of issuing a permit, which is mainly intended to ensure that the company is serious about mining, solvent and capable of carrying out the work. Permits are then an exclusive property right to access the minerals in a specific area, but before mining begins a number of environmental consents are needed under the RMA. These will include consents for land use, taking of water, discharge into water and air, and potentially many others.

The RMA is operated by local authorities. Territorial Local Authorities (districts) control land use consents; regional councils control water use and air discharge. (In a few cases these council functions are all combined in a unitary authority.) Usually no RMA consent is needed until the company wants to begin mining, thus exploration and prospecting are often discovered by the public when they are already underway. RMA applications for full scale mining (underground or open cast) will normally be publicly notified by the councils involved, and citizens can make submissions, both in writing and in person at the hearings. Councils will often appoint professional hearings commissioners to hear the evidence and decide whether the consents should be granted.

Section 5 of the RMA appears to set a very high environmental threshold but in fact, amendments and case law over the years have meant that it doesn’t really mean what it says any more and most consents are granted because it is argued that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental damage.

An appeal on the facts to the Environment Court is possible, as is in train currently for the Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. The argument is about whether the outstanding biodiversity and landscape values of the plateau outweigh the economic benefits of mining. [13] Recently the courts have found that climate change cannot be argued in such a case (see the 'Coal mining and Climate Change Law section below). After the Environment Court hearing, appeal is only possible on points of law to the High Court and potentially to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

Some limited legal aid to hire expert witnesses is available to bona fide environmental groups who are incorporated societies and who are arguing a matter of wider public interest.

If mining will take place on, or need access through, Conservation land, a concession will be required from the Department of Conservation. This approval process sometimes involves public input. [14]

An important provision of the Crown Minerals Act is that landowners can veto access to or over their land for mining. This is a major safeguard our counterparts in Australia do not have and was fought for over many years. It is not perfect, as mining under owners’ land with access from outside the boundary may still be possible. The minerals industry is lobbying hard to change this right of veto but so far there is no sign of an intention to do that in the current review of the Crown Minerals Act.[15]

Coal mining and climate change law

A major legal issue at present is whether the contribution to climate change which will result from eventually burning the coal can be taken into account by the Environment Court when considering a consent for land use for mining.

In 2004 Parliament passed an amendment to the RMA, the RMA Amendment (Energy & Climate Change) Act 2004[16], removing the ability of councils to consider greenhouse gas emissions when considering an application for an air discharge consent, because the government at the time intended to introduce a carbon tax, dealing with emissions centrally rather than locally. This was intended to deal with emissions sources such as a new power station which would already be subject to the carbon tax. There was no thought at the time of the situation where no discharge consent is sought and the coal will be burned elsewhere at a future date. Ironically the carbon tax plan was axed, and eventually the government brought in an Emissions Trading Scheme instead which is full of loopholes.[citation needed] On the basis of the 2004 amendment the courts have ruled that emissions from coal cannot be taken into account when considering a consent to mine that coal.[citation needed]

However, a coal mine does not require an air discharge consent and coking coal from West Coast mines will all be exported and burned largely in China or India where there is no price on carbon and no target or obligation under the Kyoto Protocol. Environment groups argued the amendment did not apply in the case of the Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau and are currently appealing the declaratory judgement (May 2012) by the Environment Court, which ruled that it did.[citation needed]

Unfortunately it is likely that the substantive appeal against the consent for the mine will be heard in October 2012, before the legal appeal against the declaratory judgement has been finalised, so opponents will not be able to argue climate change as an issue.

Royalties and taxes

Coal mining in New Zealand does not pay royalties as gold and silver mining do. The tax regime is generally regarded as concessionary.[17]

Coal terminals

The three coal export terminals or ports are:

  • the Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, on the east coast of the South Island, exports coal railed across the Southern Alps from Solid Energy's Stockton mine[18] as well as from other West Coast mines. The port currently has an export capacity of approximately 2.5 million tonnes of coal a year.[19] It suffered major damage in the 2011 earthquakes and the Lyttelton Port Company had to withdraw its applications for resource consents that would have allowed a doubling of its coal-handling capacity. According to Bathurst Resources the Westport to Lyttleton railway has a capacity of 5 million tonnes per annum.[20] The company has an agreement with Solid Energy that it will export approximately 25% of its project coal through the Port of Lyttleton. [21]
  • Port Taranaki is owned and operated by Port Taranaki Limited, a business owned by Taranaki Regional Council. The port, which is located on the west coast of the North Island, has entered into an agreement to export coal from Bathurst Resources coal mines on the West Coast. Small scale exports are already underway. The port has the ability to load Panamax capable ships, which have a capacity of approximately 52,500 tonnes.[20]

Mining safety

On November 19 2010 an explosion rocked the new underground Pike River mine located near Greymouth on the South Island. The explosion caused the death of 29 miners. A Royal Commission chaired by High Court judge Graham Panckhurst was appointed to inquire into the tragedy. The Royal Commission finished its hearings on 6 April 2012 and is scheduled to complete its final report by 28 September 2012. [25]

Coal Opposition

For more see Opposition to coal in New Zealand.

Save Happy Valley Coalition activists occupy the headquarters of Solid Energy in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Mar. 6, 2005.
Three Save Happy Valley Coalition activists blockade coal train tracks in New Zealand - two are attached to the tracks, while the third is hanging from a tree 100 feet in the air, attached to a support rope that is tied to the tracks.

May 1, 2010: huge protest opposes mining on conservation land

In Auckland on May 1, 2010 an estimated 40,000–50,000 people marched in opposition to the Government’s plans to allow mineral exploration on conservation land listed in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, where access for mining is currently prohibited. Supporters of the Greenpeace-organised march included NZ actresses Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm.

Following the protests in Auckland and other centres, the Government extended the deadline for making submissions on its Schedule 4 stocktake discussion document. This “stocktake” proposed that more than 7000 ha of land, including parts of Great Barrier Island, the Coromandel Peninsula and Paparoa National Park be removed from Schedule 4 protection so that mining companies would have easier access. More than 37500 submissions were received, most of which opposed the mining proposals.

On July 20, 2010 Energy Minister, Gerry Brownlee, and Conservation Minister, Kate Wilkinson, held a press conference at which Mr Brownlee announced that proposals to mine on Great Barrier Island, Coromandel and Paparoa National Park had been scrapped. No land would be removed from Schedule 4 for mining, although the government would look to undertake aerial magnetic surveying of non-Schedule 4 land in Northland and the West Coast. Kate Wilkinson stated that, "In future, all areas given classifications equivalent to Schedule 4 areas - such as national parks and marine reserves - will automatically come under Schedule 4." [26] [27]

Aug. 13, 2005: Save Happy Valley Coalition coal train blockade

On August 13, 2005, a group of 25 Save Happy Valley Coalition activists and allies blockaded train tracks leading from Solid Energy's coal mines to the port of Lyttelton in protest of Solid Energy's plans to build a coal mine in Happy Valley. Two people locked themselves to the tracks, while a third suspended himself from a tree 30 m in the air, attached to a support rope that was tied to the tracks. Four Solid Energy trains stood on the tracks for five hours, while police cleared the blockade; the company claimed in court that the blockade cost them $150,000. The three blockaders were arrested. [28][29]

The Save Happy Valley coalition has disbanded but many of the members now work with Coal Action Network Aotearoa. [30]

Mar. 6, 2005: Save Happy Valley Coalition occupation of Solid Energy headquarters

On March 6, 2005, four Save Happy Valley Coalition activists locked down at the corporate headquarters of Solid Energy in Christchurch, New Zealand, in protest of Solid Energy's plans to build a coal mine in Happy Valley, a pristine valley of rare red tussock wetland with endangered brown kiwi and endemic native carnivorous land snails. Supporters hung banners and pitched tents on Solid Energy's property. The occupation came one day after Solid Energy sued three activists for defamation. [31]

Citizen groups campaigning on coal

Coal companies with interests in coal and/or coal seam gas

7 Mile Mining Limited
Bathurst Resources
Birchfield Coal
Brookdale Mining Limited
Buller Coal Limited
Canterbury Coal (2013) Limited
Canterbury Coal
Cascade Coal Limited
Comet Ridge NZ Limited
Crusader Coal
Francis Mining
Glencoal Energy Limited
GTL Energy Limited
Harliwich Carrying Company Limited
Heaphy Mining Limited
Kai Point Coal Company Limited
L&M Group
New Brighton Collieries Limited
New Creek Mining Limited
New Dawn Energy Limited
NZCC Limited
O’Reillys Opencast Limited
Puke Coal
RJ Banks
ROA Mining Company
Rochfort Coal
Rockies Mining
Rogers Mining Limited
Solid Energy
South Pacific Resources Limited
Terrace Mine
Takitimu Coal Limited

Articles and Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 BGR Energy Study 2019 - Data and Developments in German and Global Energy Supplies (23), Hannover: Germany, 2019.
  2. Energy Resources: Coal, World Energy Council, Country Notes, 2013.
  3. "New Zealand Energy Data File 2012", Ministry of Economic Development, accessed July 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 New Zealand Government,Mineral Commodity Report, 1994.
  5. "Crown Minerals Act 1991", New Zealand Legislation, accessed July 2012
  6. "Introduction to New Zealand's Coal Resources", New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, accessed July 2012
  7. "Introduction to New Zealand's Coal Resources", New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, accessed July 2012
  8. Ministry of Economic Development, "Operating coal mines", Ministry of Economic Development website, accessed March 2012.
  9. Ministry of Economic Development, "Introduction to New Zealand’s Coal Resources", Ministry of Economic Development website, August 2011.
  10. "Crown Minerals Act 1991", New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office, accessed July 2012.
  11. "Resource Management Act 1991", New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office, accessed July 2012.
  12. "Welcome to Coal", Ministry of Economic Development, NZ Petroleum & Minerals website, accessed July 2012.
  13. "Escarpment Mine Project", Buller District Council and West Coast District Council, accessed July 2012
  14. "Prospecting, Exploration and Mining", Department of Conservation website, accessed July 2012.
  15. "Review of the Crown Minerals Act", Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website, accessed July 2012.
  16. "RMA Amendment Act (Energy & Climate Change 2004", New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office, accessed July 2012.
  17. "Taxation and Royalties for Mining Companies", New Zealand Minerals Industry Association website, accessed July 2012.
  18. Solid Energy, "Stockton Opencast Mine", Solid Energy website, accessed March 2012.
  19. Lyttelton Port Company, "Coal", Lyttelton Port Company website, accessed March 2012.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Bathurst Resources, "Presentation to HELSEC Hong Kong Forum", March 2012, page 6.
  21. Solid Energy, "Solid Energy and Bathurst Resources to cooperate on Denniston export coal resources", Media Release, June 22, 2011.
  22. "Coal Facilities Under Development", Media Release, February 2, 2010.
  23. Bathurst Resources, "Presentation to HELSEC Hong Kong Forum", March 2012, page 6.
  24. Bathurst Resources, "Interim DFS results confirm project viability", Media Release, August 18, 2010.
  25. "Terms of Reference", Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, accessed July 2012
  26. "People power forces Govt u-turn on mining", NZ Herald, accessed July 2012
  27. "Govt confirms no mining Schedule 4, national parks", 3 News
  28. Protesters Stop Solid Energy Coal Trains, Save Happy Valley Coalition press release, August 13, 2005.
  29. Save Happy Valley Members in Court, Save Happy Valley Coalition press release, February 9, 2006.
  30. "Coal Action Network Aotearoa", accessed July 2012
  31. Anti-Coal Protestors Lock On to Solid Energy, Aotearoa Independent Media Centre, March 6, 2005.


Operating coal mines in New Zealand

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Proposed coal mines and potential coal-related projects in New Zealand

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