Spring Creek Underground Mine, in the hills behind Dunollie north of Greymouth on the West Coast, is owned and operated by Solid Energy.
Spring Creek’s bituminous semi-soft coal is noted for its low ash and low sulphur properties, suiting it well to both the steelmaking and thermal markets. Spring Creek coal is used by industrial customers in New Zealand and exported to steelmakers through Lyttelton Port of Christchurch.
Mining at Spring Creek is done with high-pressure water cannon (hydraulic monitors). Monitor mining extracts a far greater proportion of the coal resource in an underground mining area than other methods, especially where there are thick coal seams. The main seam thickness at Spring Creek is up to 40 m in places.
In late 2012 Solid Energy placed its Spring Creek Mine into care and maintenance, part of a wider company reorganisation in response to extremely weak global coal markets. The nearby Rocky Creek coal washery, stockpile and rail loadout facility continues to operate, processing coals from the company’s other Grey District resources. Solid Energy believes Spring Creek Mine still has potential in a stronger international market for steel-grade coal.
Care and maintenance is a transitional state, a time when a mine has stopped production for technical, environmental, financial or other reasons but the owner has not yet decided if or when mine operations will resume, or if it will be sold, or closed and abandoned. During care and maintenance, a smaller workforce ensures the mine presents no danger to human life or the environment and that any remaining capital equipment, including developed roadways, is maintained in a state which does not excessively constrain future options.