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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Coal firm explores Eastriggs depot potential

Testing for a new coalfield potentially worth billions of pounds has reached another important stage.

Mining photo
Gary Fietz, right, managing director of New Age Exploration Ltd with Ian Wilson, of British subsidiary Lochinvar Coal Ltd

And the Australian firm behind the plans has revealed it is looking at a mothballed military depot to set up a transport hub linked to the massive project.

New Age Exploration (NAE) is in talks about possibly using the Ministry of Defence’s old ammunition depot at Eastriggs if its exploration work on the Lochinvar coalfield, near Longtown, results in a working mine.

It confirmed the depot discussions amid speculation that it was one of the firms interested in becoming part of new industrial operations to run on part of Eastriggs’ sister Longtown MoD site, and as the company’s latest test results were released.

Melbourne-based NAE is exploring the area for coking coal, which is used to produce steel. Its licence extends from Evertown, near Canonbie, south to Longtown and west past Gretna to the Solway coast in Scotland.

It is believed hundreds of jobs could be created if the project resulted in a working mine – which would be accessed by tunnels – and more in supporting industries. One of these would be a rail hub, needed to load and transport the coal to steel mills.

Gary Fietz, the company’s chief executive officer, said: “Our discussions with the MoD have centred more around potential use of the abandoned MoD Eastriggs site as a possible option for surface infrastructure and train loading for the proposed Lochinvar deep coal mine.

“The Lochinvar project is still at the exploration drilling stage and we are looking at several other locations as options for surface infrastructure also.

“It’s too early for us to say where the location will be at this stage.”

Mr Fietz was also pleased with the latest drilling programme, in which four boreholes were made. The results suggest the company will be able to upgrade the status of its estimates for the field – believed to contain more than 100 million tonnes of coal, potentially worth billions of pounds – from ‘inferred’ to ‘indicated’. This happens when investigation leads to great confidence in a resource.

Mr Fietz added: “It has also provided confidence to add two extra holes to the current programme which, if successful, will extend the indicated resource in the northern and southern parts of the deposit and enhance the scoping study (report into feasibility) mine plan.”

He was also keen to stress that the project is at a very early stage.

The earliest a mine would be likely to open is 2017. It emerged last week that commercial companies could start working from part of DM Longtown – saved from closure last year – within a year, fuelling hopes of a jobs boost.

At least one firm has said it is interested in having operations there, with others also understood to have come forward.

Transforming part of the depot into a logistics hub, including a dry port linked by rail to the Port of Workington, has been flagged up as one of the key projects for driving forward north Cumbria’s economy.

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