Impetus is growing for the Queensland State Government to approve New Hope Groups’s New Acland Stage 3 project.
The planned expansion to the existing mine, which had an environmental impact assessment carried out in 2010, aims to extend the operating life of the mine to about 2042, with annual production tipped to rise to 7.5mt.
Yet now, 10 years on – despite the many economic benefits that the project would bring – the miner is still awaiting the green light.
Shadow State Development minister Andrew Powell is among many who have questioned the Government’s motives for stalling approvals.
After visiting the New Acland site, he said he was impressed by the operation, particularly the rehabilitation work being done.
“The rehabilitation is outstanding,” he said.
“It’s hard to believe there was once a mine under all that grass.
“But what I really can’t get over is the fact the State Government is sitting on the vital approvals this mine needs to keep employing regional Queenslanders.
“The workers I spoke to are truly fearful they will be out of work within the next six months if something doesn’t change.”
Mr Powell said, in the current climate, the Government should be looking at every opportunity to create jobs, not destroy them.
“We all know the dire state of the Queensland economy. Yet here we have the Labor Government, who say they are all for jobs in regional Queensland, sitting on their hands rather than approve a project that will create hundreds of jobs for local workers.”
Acland Mine general manager Dave O’Dwyer welcomed Mr Powell’s visit to the site.
“Our crews have been sensational throughout this process but it has been tough on them and their families,” he said.
“All we are asking from the government is some certainty for the future.”
If approved the New Acland Stage 3 project will create 187 new jobs within the first six months, 487 jobs within 18 months and inject $7b into the Queensland economy.
Part of the reason for the delay has been court action against the project taken by the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, representing Darling Downs farmers.
While the legal challenge had been dismissed, the group is now appealing the decision in the High Court.
Toowoomba’s peak economic development organisation, Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprises, said that the Supreme Court of Queensland’s ruling to adjourn proceedings until the alliance’s appeal has been heard will put local jobs at risk.
To complicate matters, New Hope Group has already applied to wind up the OCAA based on the $735,000 that the Court of Appeal has ordered it to pay.
TSBE CEO Ali Davenport said the Supreme Court agreed that OCAA owes a substantial debt to New Acland Mine but it appears to be insolvent.
“It is disappointing that an insolvent organisation is permitted to continue accruing debt while delaying a much-needed project,” she said.
“New Hope Group has been fighting to get New Acland Mine Stage 3 approved for more than 13 years, which once approved will save the jobs of existing workers and create future jobs for our region.”
For more than a decade, the New Acland open cut coal mine – owned by New Hope Group – has been a major employer and economic spur to the Darling Downs region in Queensland.
Located adjacent to Acland township, about 10km north of Oakey, it provides direct jobs for more than 300 locals, 500 contractors, and contributes to 2300 more indirect jobs.
New Acland is a substantial and loyal supporter of local businessses and suppliers, each year injecting more than $110m into the Darling Downs economy and more than $300m into the broader south-east Queensland economy.
Through a leading rehabilitation program, mining lease areas are continually returned to agricultural and conservation uses.
The operation provides significant benefit to the surrounding region through infrastructure provision and support, environmental and educational projects, as well as participation and support for community development initiatives.
A multiple block extraction mining system is used to provide access to the coal, with the process allowing for blending different qualities of coal to meet product specification.
The project features two coal preparation plants in addition to a train loading facility near Jondaryan.
Key to the operation’s success is industry-leading performance in the availability of equipment and diggers – exceeding 8000 operating hours per year.
Increases in production have been led by record Coal Handling and Preparation Plant (CHPP) performance.
Alongside productivity performance, the company’s ‘Life Rules’ safety program ensures that safety is a priority and always front of mind.
GeologyThe Acland coal deposit is in the Clarence Moreton Basin within the lower Walloon Coal Measures and is similar to other Walloon coal deposits mined at Jeebropilly.
The Acland-Sabine sequence, which is currently mined at New Acland, is 30 metres to 60 metres thick. It contains six seam groups nominated from the top to bottom as A to F, with up to 10 plies within each group and 47 plies in all.
The seam groups contain up to 18 metres of banded coal with an average thickness of the individual plies of 0.23 metres.
New Acland is one of two New Hope open cut coal mines in South East Queensland that produce thermal coal, the other being Jeebropilly in the West Moreton region near Ipswich.
More than 90% is directly sold to export markets, predominantly in the Asia Pacific region, with the remainder sold domestically to general industry processors and manufacturers.
The company exports Tivoli brand coal, which produces low nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide emissions and has low sulphur content, making it one of Australia’s cleanest burning coals.
Coal mined and sold by New Hope is recognised by independent experts as being one of the lowest greenhouse gas-producing coals in the world.
This superior environmental performance provides an added strength as environmental management becomes increasingly critical.
The objective is to increase Australian production through existing resource development, new resource exploration and acquisitions. To this end, current mining operations are complemented by investment in an extensive exploration program.
New Hope’s competitive advantage is anchored in the ability to manage each step in the coal chain, from exploration and mining through to delivery for our customers via our port operations.
New Hope believes that mining and agriculture can exist together, and is demonstrating this at New Acland, where mine buffer zones are farmed and rehabilitated mine areas are returned to grazing.
Acland Pastoral Company (APC), established in 2006, is a farming, grazing and land management enterprise based at New Acland.
The company oversees 10,000ha of land, including grazing 2000ha of cattle, and manages 2400ha of crops, which are primarily sold in the Darling Downs region. The business continues to investigate new crop types.
The company manages the progressive rehabilitation program that forms a central aspect to the sustainability plan for New Acland.
At any one time, only 10% of lease area is actively mined. More than 300ha of land have been rehabilitated and returned to cattle grazing land.
This ensures that mined land converts back to productive agricultural uses as well as conservation areas.
As a member of AgForce Queensland, the peak organisation representing Queensland’s rural producers, APC is committed to best practice agricultural and land management operations.
Stage 3 stalemate
In response to initial concerns raised in by the Queensland Government about the project’s potential impacts, several modifications were made, including a reduction in scope, resulting in a modified proposal that was 63%, or 2300ha, smaller than the original.
New Acland Coal also proposed to move the existing Jondaryan rail coal load-out facility onto the mine site, with an 8km rail spur connecting the facility to the existing rail line.
Additional changes to the plan included leaving the Acland town area, including landmarks such as the Tom Doherty Park, the War Memorial and the Acland No 2 Colliery, in place.
The revised project was also changed so that the mining operations would sit 10km from the township of Oakey, while profiling and veneering technology was promised at the project’s rail loading facility, and Lagoon Creek no longer needed to be diverted for mining operations.
A New Hope spokesman said the group remains committed to delivering the Stage 3 project and has vowed to actively work with the relevant government departments to progress through these steps.
He said obtaining final approval this calendar year was critical to ensuring the continuity of operations and therefore employment for the employees and contractors currently engaged at the New Acland mine.
“Queensland State Government approval is urgently needed to ensure we can continue to provide employment to the existing workforce, the Oakey community, suppliers and others reliant on the mine,” he said.