23 Nov 2010

Uncertain times for Pike River Coal

5:42 pm on 23 November 2010

Pike River Coal says it is too early to know what is in store for the miner as it concentrates on trying to resuce 29 trapped workers.

The company has had a chequered history, experiencing production delays due to machinery problems, unstable rock and training new mining crews.

Pike River Coal is a big contributor to the West Coast economy, spending $13 million in wages last year, which it says represents about $78 million in spending as the money is recycled.

But Friday's mine explosion and the inevitable inquiry has some questioning whether Pike River Coal can withstand further delays to production.

Along with its chief executive Peter Whittall, the company's chairman John Dow is in Greymouth, and said on Tuesday its main focus is on staff and their families.

Shares in Pike River Coal have been halted from trading on the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges.

Pike River Coal's first export shipment of 20,000 tonnes of premium hard-coking coal went to the industrial coal manufacturer Gujarat NRE in February, but its second shipment to the same customer left in September - six weeks later than planned.

In October, Pike River Coal halved production forecasts, blaming slower-than-expected progress in developing underground roadways and delays caused by machinery upgrades.