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Mine now, or later?

Written By: - Date published: 10:08 am, September 6th, 2012 - 27 comments
Categories: Mining - Tags:

Something struck me as weird about the Spring Creek closure. Why have they stopped mining immediately even though the future of the mine hasn’t been decided and the miners are still being paid? Why did Solid Energy consider it more economic to pay the miners to leave the coal in the ground than dig it up? The answer has big implications for the government’s mining obsession.

Clearly, Solid Energy expects the coal price to recover in the future and the increased return from leaving the coal in the ground will exceed Solid energy’s cost of capital and the expense of paying miners to do nothing. When you think about it, coal in a developed mine is like money in the bank. The question is just whether you spend that money, dig up that coal, now or later. Solid Energy can be pretty certain that it will earn a lot of interest in the coming years if it keeps its money in the bank, rather than spending it now.

The wider implication of this is: why is the Government in such a rush to dig up our hydrocarbon and mineral reserves? We only get these reserves once. They’re like an inheritance. And we’ve got that inheritance in a very high interest account. Oil, for instance, has gone from US$20 a barrel ten years ago to US$115 today. You would be kicking yourself if you sold any oil in 2002 – you could have just held on to it and made a mint. These trends are only going to continue – oil, coal, gas, minerals are all being depleted rapidly and the long-term price trend is strongly up. Does it make sense to put all your effort into selling now, or sell later for much more money? Solid Energy clearly thinks later is best.

This government, of course, can’t think beyond the end of its nose and just wants to dig it, drill it now. What we’ll do once we’ve sold off our inheritance cheaply – they don’t know and they don’t care.

27 comments on “Mine now, or later? ”

  1. tc 1

    It’s not weird if your intention is to have a valuable asset available at a low price for your rich mates.

    Don elder gets 1.4m p.a. to do what his masters tell him or he’s removed.

  2. Brokenback 2

    This would have to rate as the greatest act of Hydrocarbon theft since the formation of Kuwait:

    Petrocorp, formally the Petroleum Corporation of New Zealand Limited, is a former New Zealand State-Owned Enterprise that was formed in 1978. It was sold by the Fourth Labour government in 1988 to Fletcher Challenge, and became the Fletcher Energy group.
    The company was created to undertake the Government’s petroleum exploration activities and was involved in the Maui gas field. Through an agreement formed on 1 October 1973 Petrocorp became a 50% owner, with Todd Corporation, BP and Shell of the Offshore Mining Company Limited which developed and then sold gas from the Maui field. These companies became known as the Maui Partners.[1]
    Contents [hide]
    1 Assets
    2 Sale
    3 References
    4 External links

    The corporation wholly owned the Natural Gas Corporation, which in turn owned gas transmission pipelines from Kapuni to Auckland and Kapuni to Wellington, and the Kapuni Gas Treatment Plant.[2]

    In 1987, Petrocorp became a publicly-listed company on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, due to a 30% share sell down by the Government. Petrocorp issued new shares that represented 30% of the total shares in the company and 15% were sold by tender to Fletcher Challenge with the remainder offered via a share float. On 3 March 1988, Fletcher Challenge agreed to purchase the remaining 70% of the governments’ shares in the company for NZ$801 million via a “put and call” agreement. This was the same price previously offered by British Gas plc but rejected because of conditions requested by British Gas on the sale.[3]
    The final transaction involved the purchase of shares in PetroCorp by Fletcher Challenge with payment in Fletcher Challenge shares that were then sold by the government on 16 December 1993.[4]

  3. I read today that Bathhurst is quite happy to start mining,key has an interest in that
    company and also opened their conference,there could be some correlation between
    that and solid energy,with solid energy being ‘disassembled’

    • tc 3.1

      Come now he’s no idea of where his interests are remember it’s in a blind trust, to which the MSM went awww that’s Ok then. A banksta that doesn’t know what he’s got shares in….yeah right !

  4. lprent 4

    It is what I always say about National governments – they are short term thinkers.

    The one thing that you can be sure of with mineral resources in a world with a future – they tend to become more valuable on average over time. But National are kind of hilarious.

    They act like a lab rat with a addiction – they don’t see a future beyond the now and the next election cycle or two.

    • Poission 4.1

      They act like a lab rat with a addiction

      Andrew Lo professor of finance at MIT suggested this as well to the house oversight committee eg,

      But Andrew Lo believed that the crisis was about more than economic forces. In his mind, a human element was at play, most notably the emotions of greed and fear of the unknown. As Lo stated in his House Oversight Committee testimony:

      During extended periods of prosperity, market participants become complacent about the risk of loss—either through a systematic underestimation of those risks because of recent history, or a
      decline in their risk aversion due to increasing wealth, or both. In fact, there is mounting evidence
      from cognitive neuroscientists that financial gain affects the same ‘pleasure centers’ of the brain
      that are activated by certain narcotics. This suggests that prolonged periods of economic growth
      and prosperity can induce a collective sense of euphoria and complacency among investors that is
      not unlike the drug-induced stupor of a cocaine addict. The seeds of this crisis were created
      during a lengthy period of prosperity. During this period we became much more risk tolerant.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        Minsky’s (1919-1996) financial instability hypothesis. Steve Keen has done a lot of work on this.

        A stable period of solid financial returns eventually creates expectations for increased financial returns from market participants. When this occurs a cycle of euphoria is created leading to increased risk taking and even greater returns – for a time.

        “Financial stability itself is destabilising”

        • Poission

          Steve Keen is a remarkable communicator .There was an interesting interview on Kim Hill last Saturday, he was astounded that NZ had no cgt.

          Minsky logic is founded on the mathematical theory of the Russian school such as the inverse problem ( in the Hardamand sense) and the role of chance.

          The thinking is well founded by posed problems such as Slutsky 1937 eg

          The summation of random causes generates a cyclical series which
          tends to imitate for a number of cycles a harmonic series of a relatively
          small number of sine curves. After a more or less considerable number of
          periods every regime becomes disarranged, the transition to another regime
          occurring sometimes rather gradually, sometimes more or less abruptly,
          around certain critical points.

          There is a lot of information imparted here,namely the sensitivity to forcing in the bifurcation regime, that can reinforce the instability such as poorly thought out Govt policy such as quick fixes.This can mode lock an economy into a negative regime very quickly.

          The labour sell of the CGT was poorly orchestrated,and the mechanism poorly designed it needs work and to be reformatted.

  5. Dr Terry 5

    lprent. I agree almost entirely with you. All that I question is your first line in which you describe National governments as “short term thinkers”. I would never attribute “thinking” to any National government, they are, at best, poor “performers”.

  6. AmaKiwi 6

    “It is what I always say about National governments – they are short term thinkers.”

    No. We abhor the idea that the irresponsible, ignorant masses should collectively make money on anything except the sweat of their brow. The elite should own the estate because only the elite have the discipline to not waste their wages on grog.

    That’s the problem with your kind. You think because you got a university education you are worthy to run the country.

    • Adele 6.1


      No. We abhor the idea that the irresponsible, ignorant masses should collectively make money on anything except the sweat of their brow. The elite should own the estate because only the elite have the discipline to not waste their wages on grog. That’s the problem with your kind. You think because you got a university education you are worthy to run the country

      You should have your physician review your medication, you appear to be delusional.

      Who do you consider to be the elite? Perhaps these people:

      PJ Hutchison, JE Farry, OR Matson, WJ Stein, SAM Perry, of St Kilda Finance in receivership owing 336 investors $4.9m; GC Bluett, PC Luscombe, RN Spiers, PA MacFie of Allied Nationwide Finance in receivership owing $128m which was repaid by the Crown (aka the masses that pay tax) under the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; AW Bowden, NG Kirk, MA McDonald, of Antares Finance in liquidation owing $2.3m; AJ and MJ Hubbard of Aorangi Securities in statutory management with 400 investors owed $96m; SC Smith, SJ Buckley of Belgrave Finance in receivership and liquidation owing $19.1m, also subject to SFO investigation; MJ Oldham, SC Oldham, KE Oldham, of Benefical Finance in moratorium owing $24.2m to 497 investors; MJ Bradley and JL Bradley of B’on Financial Service in liquidation owing $29m to 86 investors and principals facing criminal charges; AL Green, SKE Turner of Boston Finance in moratorium owing 1300 investors $40m; RM Petricevic, BN Davidson, PD Steigrad, GK Urwin, CR Roest of Bridgecorp Finance in receivership and liquidation owing 14,000 investors $459m, three directors have subsequently been jailed; RG Sutherland, NM Nicholls, OF Tallentire, CG Ryan of Capital and Merchant Finance in receivership and liquidation owing $167m to 7000 investors, three directors jailed on criminal charges; FJ Stevens of Chancery Finance in liquidation owing 1300 investors $17.4m, one investor was Thea Muldoon; BS Clegg of Clegg and Co Finance in receivership owing 500 investors $6.5m, BS Clegg found guilty of misleading investors; RJ Moody, IW Gladwell of Compass Capital owing $15m to 800 bondholders; OF Tallentire of Cymbis NZ in receivership owing $6.9m to 797 stockholders; TM Butler, AK Butler, VE Arkinstall, RG Bettle, PW Forsyth of Dominion Finance Group in receivership and liquidation owing $176m to 5900 investors, two directors and the CEO faced criminal charges; TM Butler, AK Butler, VE Arkinstall, RG Bettle, PW Forsyth, RB Whale of Dominion Finance Holdings in voluntary administration and liquidation owing 6055 debenture holders $224m; PA Byrnes, MJ Fisher, JJ Gosney, S Sinclair, G Baker of Dorchester Finance in moratorium owing $176m on 7,600 deposits; MEG Ussher of Fendal Finance in liquidation owing $17.1m to 28 creditors; NG Kirk, MA MacDonald, AW Bowden of Five Star Consumer Finance in receivership owing $43m to 200 depositors, two ex directors jailed for two years for stealing $50m; PE Francis, DG O’Connell, RR King, DW Smale of Geneva Finance in moratorium owing $142m to 3000 investors; A Baker of Guaranteed Finance whose insurance scam was called “the most immoral, atrocious, outrageous deal” inflicted on New Zealand’s poor communities. 350 people signed up to receive $20,000 funeral cover but the policies were actually worth between $250,000 and $500,000. The family would get the $20,000 and the rest would be paid to the company; PF Brownie of Halifax Finance in liquidation and contributing to the collapse of two other finance companies with a combined $37m owed to investors; MS Hotchin of Hanover Finance in moratorium owing $465m to 13,000 depositors and subject to SFO investigation; MS Hotchin of Hanover Capital in moratorium owing $24m to 1,100 depositors; RM Richardson (ex Nat Finance Minister), CC Alpe of IMP Diversified Income Fund in moratorium owing $15.8m to 1,015 debenture and capital note holders; The Hon WP Jeffries, The Rt Hon Sir DAM Graham, LRV Bryant, MH Reeves of Lombard Finance and Investments in receivership owing $127m to 4,400 investors, four directors found guilty of making false statements; KA Lane, JE Lane, BP Kreft, DJ Stock of Mascot Finance in receivership owing 2,558 debenture holders $70m which was covered by the Crown under the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; AL Green, SKE Turner of MFS Boston in moratorium owed 1,700 investors $42m; JRD Malyard of MFS Pacific Finance in receivership with $325m invested by 12,000 investors; LD Morrison, PN Bublitz, PRS Hocking of Mutual Finance in receivership with 340 depositors owed $9.3m and covered by the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; MA Doolan, KR Moses, DM Young of Nathans Finance in receivership with $174m owed to 7,082 depositors, two directors jailed for making false statements; TA Ludlow, CA Braithwaite, AD Banbrook of National Finance in receivership and liquidation with $24.8m owed to 2,000 investors, one director jailed for six on criminal charges another director found guilty of making false statements; RG Bettle, VE Arkinstall of North South Finance in liquidation with $100m owed to 6,925 depositors, criminal charges laid against directors; OF Tallentire, NM Nicholls of Numeria Finance in receivership with $6.4m owed to 500 investors; DL Somers Edgar of Orange Finance in moratorium with 2,500 investors owed $25.6m; DB Queen, BI Sundstrum, PJM Taylor of PropertyFinance Group in liquidation with $79m owed to 4000 investors; JS Edilson, PB Wheeler of Provincial Finance in receivership with $296m owed to 14,000 investors; NB O’Leary, JP Gardner, CM Simpson of Rockforte Finance in receivership with $3.2m owed to 77 investors, the directors face a combined total of 92 charges under the Crimes Act; SJ McLauchlan of South Canterbury Finance in receivership with 35,000 depositors owed $1.7 billion of which $1.5billion is covered by the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; KJ Podmore, SL Lee, JJ Gosney of St Laurence in receivership with 9,000 investors owed $245m; AW Robertson, RK Tucker of Strata Finance in receivership with 21 customers owed $448,000 covered by the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; M (Jock) Hobbs, MA Lindale, DG Thom, DJ Wolfenden, GE Jackson, K Finnigan of Strategic Finance in liquidation with $452m owed to 13,000 investors; MS Hotchin of United Finance in moratorium with $65m owed to 2,400 depositors; BA McKay, RT Blackwood of Viaduct Capital in receivership with $7.8m owed to 110 investors, $7.3m covered by the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; VA Foster, AJI Armstrong, JL Jackson, MC Currie, BC Davidson, RD Anderson of Vision Securities in receivership with 953 depositors owed $28m, covered by the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme; WDB Pickett of Waipawa Finance Company in liquidation with 220 people owed $20m, director found guilty of criminal charges; JL and KI Smylie of Western Bay Finance in receivership with $48m owed to 10,000 contributors.

      The total amount of investor funds affected by finance companies and other investment vehicles that have collapsed or defaulted since 2006 is well over $8.5billion. With such elite stewardship over other peoples sweat equity and life savings – the masses have nothing to worry about at all. Afterall its not like they can steer NZ into an iceberg, and sink it.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.1

        AmaKiwi was sarcastic.

        • Adele

          Oh well, that means I just wasted 10 hours diligently researching and studiously typing, a really long comment, with one finger on a teeny weeny little smart-phone at 2am in the morning, for nothing.

          • lprent

            Ouch.. I’m not even going to ask why you were doing it on a smartphone.

            It is a bloody good list. I was having a look through it for obvious glaring errors (for obvious legal issues).

            If you want to recheck it and tell me any errors to fix (and others do the same), then I’ll lay it out as a guest post.

            I can do a copy and frame it as a list first and put in OpenMike to make it easier to recheck?

            • Adele

              Tēnā koe, Lprent

              Umm, I admit to a wee bit of artistic licence (a lie). I didn’t use a smart-phone otherwise I would still be typing. I will recheck and get back to you later today if that is okay, I’ve got some work to do this morn. And thank you!

              • lprent

                🙂 ok.

                I’m running around today as well. Sitting in the car with the pad jacked into car power and and wifi’ed to my android….

      • prism 6.1.2

        That’s mighty. But people here may look for different ways to express their opinions about those they don’t like. Like doing an expose of what the other side is really thinking. You get to know where people are coming from.

        There is so much investment money wasted in NZ on predictably dodgy things. Pity that just part of it couldn’t be put into business ventures of good ideas with high risk, sort of like a small piece on a pie chart with the rest going more conservatively.

  7. I’m researching coal mining in New Zealand at the moment so a couple of things James.

    Spring Creek is an underground mine. The vast majority of coal mining in NZ is opencast mining as it is much cheaper, safer and less technically demanding. Overall underground mining makes up 34 percent of all coal mined in New Zealand

    The price of coal has plummeted over the past 12 months and with China, the biggest consumer of coal, looking increasingly shaky there is not much point in keeping an uneconomical mine open. Spring creek hasn’t turned a profit since 2008. Why throw good money after bad? In the six months to December 2011 production at Spring Creek fell 28 percent to 200,000 tonnes.

    Based on the average annual production rate there is 150 years left of recoverable bituminous coal (highest value), 400+ years for sub-bituminous and a few thousand years left of lignite. New Zealand will be mining coal fora long time yet.

    • Te Reo Putake 7.1

      “The vast majority of coal mining in NZ is opencast mining as it is much cheaper, safer and less technically demanding.”
      It depends on the topography. Underground is the best option at Spring Creek.
      “Spring creek hasn’t turned a profit since 2008”
      Would you have a link for that?

    • Jenny 7.2

      Based on the average annual production rate there is 150 years left of recoverable bituminous coal (highest value), 400+ years for sub-bituminous and a few thousand years left of lignite. New Zealand will be mining coal fora long time yet.

      Southern Limits

      Correction: New Zealand will be ruining the climate for a long time yet.

      • Colonial Viper 7.2.1

        NZ will be fine. Better growing conditions with better rainfall.

        • weka

          More drought and more floods makes it harder to grow food.

          Probably not harder then industrial dairy and irrigation for exporting our fertility though 😉

  8. Jenny 8

    Another question James, might be where is the large amount of cheap ‘Cut Price’ Indonesian coal that is being used to displace the Huntly East mine workers coming from?

    Is it part of this dirty trade?

    3 weeks ago Regent of Kutai Kartanegara suspended permits of more than 15 mining companies for their alledged responsibility in flooding in the area of Samboja, Kaltim. And today who is back on the road? Hundred of trucks continuously causing clouds of dust intoxicating inhabitants, breaking roads repaired by villagers themselves, conveying coal outside of the country for the benefit of the government that suck the wealth of this country. Itulah Indonesia, a few people to denounce the pretty dirty behavior of these companies owned by rich businessmen wandering in BMW in the streets of Samarinda, while the vast majority watches and do nothing. This is time for people in the Kampung to rebel, before Kalimantan becomes a giant open pit where your own children will drown.

    The Samarinda administration has issued some 50 permits for mining activities in area, and activists have blamed the extensive mining operations there for the increasing amounts of flooding.

    Sukisman, the head of the Samarinda mining office, identified the two companies as CV Prima Coal Mining and Graha Benua Etam, with the first having its license revoked and the second suspended.

    ….these companies have had their license revoked, but they are still engaged in mining activities. This is illegal,” Suksiman said.

    The two companies, he said, had been operating on a 155-hectare of mining land in Samarinda since 2008. But because an investigation by the Samarinda regional environmental agency found them to be violating mining procedures and damaging the environment, their permits were revoked after three warnings.

    Sukisman said both miners not only damaged the environment but also created danger for the people living in the surrounding area by leaving holes from their mining activities opened.

    “We will prepare the report on their activities. Then we will report these to the authorities so that such a case is not repeated,” he said.

    The Samarinda mining office, he said, had even seen piles of coal totaling some tens of thousand tons awaiting loading onto a ship.


    Are the “tens of thousands tons” of illegal coal that is waiting to be shipped from Indonesia part of the cheap Indonesian coal shipment due to be brought into New Zealand to displace Kiwi mine workers?

    Why isn’t the EPMU questioning this trade which is displacing their members at least in the Huntly region?

    Why is MP Andrew Little the ex-head of the EPMU not demanding answers in the house?

    Why is there no combined union campaign to stop this trade?

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      Are the “tens of thousands tons” of illegal coal that is waiting to be shipped from Indonesia part of the cheap Indonesian coal shipment due to be brought into New Zealand to displace Kiwi mine workers?

      If you want real action, the RMTU and the EPMU should work together disallow those vessels to dock. Easy as. Forget pussy footing in the House.

    • Te Reo Putake 8.2

      NZ exports coal, we don’t import it. At least not at the levels you seem to think, Jenny. So, there would be no reason to ‘campaign’ because there doesn’t seem to be a link between your ‘dirty trade’ quote and the proposed job losses at Huntly East.

      • Jenny 8.2.1

        Taking action in support of the miners and against cheap imported Indonesian coal.

        Or, making excuses for doing nothing. (again).

        NZ exports coal, we don’t import it. At least not at the levels you seem to think, Jenny. So, there would be no reason to ‘campaign’ because there doesn’t seem to be a link between your ‘dirty trade’ quote and the proposed job losses at Huntly East.

        Te Reo Putake


        From 2010;

        Imports rose to 244,000 metric tons in the three months ended Dec. 31, 36 percent more than a year earlier and the highest since the fourth quarter of 2006, the Ministry of Economic Development said today in a statement.

        Bloomberg News


        In 2010 Solid energy attempted to introduce casual, non-union contract labour, into Huntly East and Rotowaro. This was a serious attempt to smash the mine workers union.
        The unionised miners with the help of the RMTU defeated Solid Energy’s plans.

        As the above link reveals, the campaign against the miners included the importation of thousands of tonnes of Indonesian coal.

        The miners defeated this tactic by putting picket lines across the tracks in front of the coal trains.

        The RMTU, the union that represents the train drivers backed their members refusal to drive trains through the miners’ picket line. The RMTU went further, in an act of solidarity with the miners the RMTU put a ban on moving this coal, helping end this dispute in the mine workers favour.

        The interesting thing about the RMTU’s action is that under New Zealand industrial law, cross union solidarity actions like this are completely illegal. And was taken in open defiance of the ERA.

        Denying the reality of Indonesian coal imports and the link between job losses at Huntly East Te Reo Putake says “there would be no reason to campaign”.
        TRP is just continuing the anti union role role he played during the Wharfies dispute where he also argued against giving the Wharfies support.

        If this much cheaper coal is allowed into the country not only will it displace New Zealand workers, but it will strengthen an addiction to this dangerous fossil fuel, making much harder to end its final use in this country.

        In making excuses for doing nothing, Te Reo Putake is not only betraying the workers of Huntly but future generations.

        • Malcolm

          Hi Jenny,

          That’s really interesting. I managed to completely miss this dispute, and the secondary industrial action taken in solidarity with the miners.

          Can you point me to any more information on it? Also, is it more accurate to say secondary action is illegal or unprotected?

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