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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Further exploration planned at border coalfield

A company exploring a coalfield which straddles the England-Scotland border is set to start drilling again next month.

dc fietz8
Gary Fietz

Australian firm New Age Exploration (NAE) says up to 400 jobs could be created if a working mine can be brought into business.

Its engineers drilled four boreholes in the Lochinvar field last year, looking for coking coal, a mineral used to produce steel.

The area the company has an exploration licence for extends as far north as Evertown, near Canonbie, and as far south as Longtown.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), the Melbourne-based firm announced it had signed a deal with Irish group Priority Drilling to create a further four holes in this area.

NAE’s managing director Gary Fietz said: “The completion of necessary approvals and signing of a drilling contract with Priority Drilling represents a significant development for the Lochinvar project.”

It is hoped the drilling will give the company a clearer idea of the potential for any future mine. If one were to open it would operate with miners working underground through tunnels.

The coalfield was discovered in the 1950s by the National Coal Board and was subject to drilling at several times in the 1970s and 1980s. However, this never progressed to an exploration project.

A working mine would create about 300 jobs with people with another estimated 100 positions coming through supporting industries. The coal is at its shallowest in the north and west of the field and any mining operation would be likely to start from this point.

A rail hub to transport the coal would also need to be created.

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) sites at Eastriggs and Longtown, which have direct links to the west coast main line, have been mentioned as possible locations for this.

In the ASX report, the company stated it has visited Eastriggs and spoken to both rail companies and port operators, which have confirmed there is the capacity for transporting coal from Lochinvar.

The company has stressed though that the earliest a working mine is likely to open is now 2017.

The report to the ASX came after Beer & Co, an Australian corporate advisory firm, valued the Lochinvar project at US $200m.

The firm said in a report it would have low running costs, partly because infrastructure is already in place and staff would be based near a mine.

“In our view the project has a strong likelihood of being delivered as projected, partly because the project scope is manageable,” the report added.

NAE is one of the firms to have shown an interest in using part of the MoD depot at Longtown for commercial interest.

Part of the sprawling site is being opened up for commercial interest as some of the other operations at the complex are mothballed.

Up to 77 posts at the depot are set to be lost by the end of this year, although the threat of complete closure has been ruled out, with 180 jobs saved.

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