The news today that Bathurst Resources is to close its Canterbury Coal mine at Coalgate is a wakeup call for Fonterra, whose Darfield plant down the road runs two coal boilers, Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) said today.

“This could spell the end of cheap coal for Fonterra’s Canterbury operations, and should give the company an opportunity to make the switch away from coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel,” said Cindy Baxter, a CANA spokesperson.

Fonterra’s Darfield dairy factory has two large, relatively new coal boilers, totalling 75MW, and burns around 90,000 tonnes of coal a year to dry milk powder for export. Last year Coal Action Network, alongside Extinction Rebellion Ōtautahi, blocked the mine to protest the expansion.

CANA and XR Ōtautahi blockade at Bathurst Canterbury Coal mine blockade, September 2020.

“Against the background of the Climate Change Commission recommending the dairy industry gets out of coal by 2037, the closure of this mine provides yet another incentive for Fonterra to dump coal, and make the switch to biomass, but of course the impact on climate change should be incentive enough,” said Baxter.

Bathurst Resources was in the middle of an application to extend the mine, but the application process had reached a sticking point.  It was being extraordinarily recalcitrant with Environment Canterbury over its refusal to accept that it was mining far more coal than it had consent for.  Over the past five years it had been fined for 28 breaches involving runoff into the local stream, threatening the habitat of the endangered Canterbury mudfish.

A Selwyn District Council report showed It had also committed numerous breaches of noise, truck movements, lights at night, dust and mining of more coal than it was allowed. Bathurst disputed this, and was also refusing to provide information to the councils as part of its application.

“One wonders whether the negotiations with ECAN over these breaches and the cost of compliance made the coal too expensive to mine,” said Baxter.

The Overseas Investment Office gave the green light for this Australian company to purchase land for its mine extension, something it should never have done in light of the illegality of its operations there.

“At the end of the day, an end to this coal mine could serve to drive up the price of thermal coal in Aotearoa and, in climate change terms, every closed coal mine is a good coal mine.  Now, we look to Fonterra to dump coal altogether, and make the switch.”