The companies have formed a joint venture to assess the potential of the region, which includes Ellington and Wearmouth collieries and eight opencast mines.
Ellington is one of 22 deep mines in operation and employs 1,100 men. It is having geological problems, however, and there has been speculation that it is on British Coal's next pit closure list. Wearmouth, which had a staff of 650, ceased production before Christmas.
Alcan operates a large, coal-fired power station that supplies electricity to its aluminium smelting plant at Lynemouth in Northumberland. The generating station uses 1.3 million tonnes of coal a year. The company said that without long-term energy supplies at competitive prices, the Lynemouth smelter would not be viable.
Crispian Hotson, chief executive of Ryan, said he was interested in buying other parts of British Coal. The Government plans to sell the company in up to five regional packages.Reuse content