HAVING comprehensively established itself as the world leader in iron ore production through a number of acquisitions and exploration successes, diverse metals behemoth Vale is now looking to increase its coal footprint both in Australia and overseas with a similar level of achievement.
The company’s global coal division, which is headquartered in Brisbane, oversees a portfolio that includes an integrated open cut and underground mine in NSW and two Queensland mines, as well as assets in Mozambique, Colombia and China.
In May 2011, six years after Vale’s Brisbane office opened, the company announced that it was seeking approval from its head office for more than $2 billion in funding to purchase Central Queensland coal projects in 2012.
“In seven to 10 years’ time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vale was one of the four largest players in Australia in terms of coal,” Vale global managing director of coal Decio Amaral said at the time in an interview with The Courier Mail.
Its deals to date with AMCI and Aquila Resources have given Vale full or part ownership of three operating mines – Isaac Plains and Carborough Downs near Moranbah in Queensland, and Integra Coal in NSW.
It also has three advanced projects in the pipeline, including the $640 million Ellensfield underground coal project, which will be operated by Vale subsidiary Ellensfield Coal Management (ECM) and which is due for completion in the second half of 2012.
The Ellensfield project will involve the development of a state-of-the-art underground longwall mine in Central Queensland’s Bowen Basin. The mine is forecast to produce about 5.5 million tonnes per annum of export coking coal and thermal coal for a project life of about 20 years.
Ellensfield is about 175km west of the coastal city of Mackay, and nearby mines include Peabody Energy Australia’s Burton Downs, Vale’s own Broadlea (now on care and maintenance) and Carborough Downs.
The Ellensfield project consists of three mining leases: ML East, ML West and ML Wedge. Initial planning envisages a small open cut mine on ML West, which could serve as access to an underground mine on ML East, and run-of-mine stockpiles on ML West and ML East. There will also be a coal washing plant on ML East with the capacity to process up to 5.5mtpa of feed coal.
ECM’s plans also involve the creation of a rail loading facility, haul roads, a new rail loop, a rejects storage facility, administration and operations buildings, and a site-based power generation system.
The open cut mine component at ML West will serve as access to the underground mine via three highwall portals at the eastern end of the void. Designed to provide coal during the initial years of the project and prior to the commencement of longwall operations, ECM has estimated that it will have a limited life of about two years. The underground mine will be formed by developing a series of tunnels, or roadways, in the coal seam that will serve to ‘block out’ large panels of coal and which will then be extracted using high-productivity longwall equipment.ECM is considering the construction a coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) at ML East that would be scheduled for completion prior to longwall commissioning.
The company has proposed that any mine production before this time would be transported off site to a CHPP by truck.
The coal washing plant will comprise two modules, each of about 400 to 600 tonnes per hour capacity, encompassing crushing and screening facilities, dense medium cyclones, spirals or teeter bed separators, flotation cells and dewatering facilities. ECM’s most likely option for power supply will be connection to the existing Ergon Energy infrastructure that traverses the lease.
Ergon, responsible for electricity supply to the Bowen Basin area, has identified emerging limitations in the electricity distribution network supplying the power-hungry Moranbah coalfields.
Ausenco Taggart was engaged by Vale in 2009 to undertake a feasibility study for Ellensfield, which involved assessment of the underground mining development, infrastructure, coal processing, railing and port operations.
Ausenco’s role was to evaluate and optimise the materials handling and coal processing facilities from mine to rail. Although nominally an 800tph plant,Ausenco has designed it for a 1000tph feed rate.
In mid-2011, Vale sought tenders for construction work associated with the Moranbah – Broadlea 132 kilovolt transmission line, including the construction of 132kV line entries into the proposed Broadlea substation and at the existing Moranbah substation. Product coal will be transported to Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal or Abbott Point Coal Terminal via the Goonyella Abbott Point rail line (GAPX50), which is
The GAPX50 includes the 69km-long Northern Missing Link between the North Goonyella and Newlands mines, and will have an operating capacity of 50mtpa. Vale, together with six other foundation
customers, has funded the $1.1 billion project designed by Queensland Rail. Construction began in May 2010, and has been pegged for completion in June 2012.
The mine is expected to generate a significant flow-on effect to the regional, state and national economy during both construction and the onset of production. Vale said the project would benefit the local and regional areas through increased employment and the ongoing requirement for local services and support.
ECM estimated that it would require about 220 to 240 people – including operations and maintenance employees – which the company will endeavour to source from the local communities.
The construction workforce of about 250 to 300 people has been accommodated at a purpose-built mine camp that will be subsequently used by the operational workforce. In February 2011, projects company Sinclair Knight Merz announced it had been awarded a study for both above ground and underground infrastructure at Ellensfield.
With the mine’s estimated mid-to-late 2012 start-up date and anticipated operational workforce, plus other project developments and expansions in the pipeline, Vale is marking a clear path in its aim to become a dominant force in Australian coal.