Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974
Japanese resource-grab on the west coast
Japanese resource-grab on the west coast
Mt Davy is easily visible from Greymouth on a clear day. It is about ten miles inland at the end of the railway line to Rewanui. For the last three years a consortium of Ataka & Co. Ltd of Japan (50%), and two New Zealand firms, N.Z. Forest Products (40%). and Odlins (10%), have been surveying their coal prospect; high on the exposed slopes of Mt Davy. According to reports in the Tokyo press, the survey has confirmed the presence of an estimated 22 million tons of high grade coal. Ataka & Co., when asked to confirm the report, declined to do so.
The Greymouth Coalfield is one of the oldest, best known, and most productive in N.Z. The first pakeha to discover coal there was Thomas Brunner, in 1848, on one of his early journeys of exploration from Nelson. By 1864 Brunner's seam was being mined, and the coal used mainly to fuel steamers bringing miners and supplies from Nelson to the goldfields of the Coast. By the time all the easy gold had been worked out in the 1870's, the Greymouth mines had established an important export trade to other parts of New Zealand. In the years from 1864 to 1963 the field had produced 30 million tons of coal from a total of 100 separate mines. As a result of competition from cheaper imported oil, most of the mines have now closed down, including the Blackball, Roa, Wallsend and Dobson mines, but the state-owned Strongman and Liverpool mines and several smaller private mines are still working.
The field has been extensively surveyed by geologists of the DSIR and reported on in the 200 page Bulletin No 45 of the N.Z. Geological Survey. This Bulletin records known coal reserves in the Greymouth field as being 11 million tons, with estimated reserves being as high as 30 million tons. The field is rich in coal of the very highest quality. In a report prepared for the 8th Mining and Metallurgical Congress of Australia and New Zealand in 1965, the then director of the N.Z. Geological Survey, Mr R.W. Willet, described the Brunner Mt Davy block as the most promising undeveloped area in the Greymouth coalfield. He pointed out that "the particular importance of the Greymouth fields lies in the fact that it is the only field in N.Z. from which coal entirely suitable for gas making is produced .... In 1953 the field supplied 80% of the coal consumed by the gas industry; moreover the field contains the only significant source of coal suitable for the manufacture of metallurgical coke. "That is, coke used in the smelting of metals. In fact, the Japanese are planning to use Mt Davy coal to make steel from South Australian iron ore.
According to the NZ press, the Tokyo report that mentioned the 22 million tons of coal at Mt Davy also said that "Ataka had already been authorised to develop and export the yields (of Mt Davy) on the condition that 100,000 tons should be supplied to cover (NZ) domestic needs." Apparently the prospecting agreement arranged between the National government and the consortium did refer to this 100,000 tons to be set aside. However the exploitation of Mt Davy cannot now go ahead until a new contract is arranged with the present government. The Minister of Mines, Mr Colman, recently stated that no decision will be made until the White Paper on coal has been published. It should have been published last year, but the effects of the energy crisis had altered the role of coal, and extra time had been needed to do the reassessment.
It would be wise for NZ to refuse to sell coal to Japan. It is important that we deny Japan the use of our resources. Apart from the fact that NZ will need the coal herself one day it would be dangerous for us to become a vital supplier of raw materials to Japan, as Australia has done. Japan, like all the rest of the over-developed western industrial nations (including little old NZ). is going to have to stop exploiting the world's resources sooner or later, If we want to export coal we should sell it, in due course, to poorer countries that might need it and benefit from it. There seems little point in continuing to throw our resources down Japan's guzzling maw.
Abridged from Pete Lusk's article in Canta.