Coal prices might’ve fallen this year, but it hasn’t turned mining companies off moving forward with their plans to continue mining, apply for mining extensions, or re-open old mines.
One of those is the Dartbrook coal mine, 10 kilometres northwest of Muswellbrook, that will re-open in the last quarter of this year.
Dartbrook was originally owned by Anglo American and has been in a care and maintenance phase since 2006. The mine was closed after a turbulent decade of life with geological difficulties including water, gas and safety problems.
Australia Pacific Coal (AQC) acquired the mine in 2016 when former billionaire Nathan Tinkler was the managing director at the company. His tenure didn’t last long, resigning the following year, but it was long enough to sign over the mine site. Since then, AQC has been working to restart operations.
The terms for recommissioning the mine were only finalised last year and in April the joint venture agreement was finalised.
Ayten Saridas joined the Board of AQC in November 2022 and stepped in as interim CEO of AQC in January this year and she made finalising that agreement her first priority.
“Because the previous term sheet had effectively expired in January, we had an opportunity to re-write the joint venture arrangement and we managed to do that so we’ve got a joint venture that is more straightforward,” Ayten said.
AQC increased its stake in the mine from 50 per cent to 80 per cent and agreed to new terms with the other two companies involved, Tetra and M Resources.
“So the next step is getting the balance of funding in place. AQC has been funding all of the activities up until now, we need to raise the rest of the capital but we are progressing really well to get the mine open in the fourth quarter of this year.”
While the financial side of things has been ongoing behind the scenes, plenty of work has been happening on the ground at Dartbrook.
One of the biggest jobs has been de-watering the four-kilometre tunnel that runs right through the mine site.
“It runs under the New England Highway and under the river and it’s under the land that is owned by Trepang. That tunnel, when they shut the mine, effectively filled up with water, they also put a lot of old equipment in there that wasn’t utilised so it was a really big clean up job and the team has done a great job.
“The roof and the ribs for the tunnel were supported previously but the steel mesh rusted so we’ve had to replace a lot of that meshing.
“We don’t need to build any new infrastructure because that wash plant, Anglo the original owner basically gold-plated it! It was built very well and has been maintained extremely well over the years.
“We are putting in a new conveyor that will run through that four-kilometre tunnel and that conveyor will transport the coal from wherever we’re mining it directly to the wash plant,” Ayten said.
AQC will be able to extract roughly 3 million tonnes of coal per annum at peak capacity from the 470 million tonnes in coal reserves. At this stage, the mine only has approval to mine underground until 2027.
When Anglo American ran Dartbrook, it used a longwall mining method which is significantly higher risk than the bord-and-pillar mining technique that AQC will be using.
AQC has been utilising as many local businesses as they can while they’ve been getting the mine ready to open and are determined to hire locally once they’re ready to get coal out of the ground.
“This is really not a fly-in-fly-out operation. We don’t want a fly-in-fly-out operation, that would be the worst thing for us. As I’ve seen in the oil and gas space it causes a lot of disruption and a lot of mental health issues so it’s not something we want to do.
“All in all, we have had a really supportive engagement with the community and the local councils. We have had a really smooth run with them and when the mine is up and running, whether or not I’m still in this seat or not, I want to make sure that we also support groups in the area that go beyond mining.
“Making sure you bring the community along with you is so important. In Australia, we refer to it as a ‘social licence to operate’, a term that is only used in Australia mind you, but it is so important.
“If you don’t have community support, it is very difficult to function, and the reality is when we talk about sustainability it is that social engagement as well.”
“We want to demonstrate that agriculture and mining can co-exist. It is a beautiful part of Muswellbrook that we are mining in, but this is an underground coal mine so everything is underground. But, what we want to do is also invest in what’s happening above the ground.”
Ayten said AQC is also very conscious about carbon emissions and is working hard to meet sustainability targets in other ways and minimise emissions as much as possible.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of plans that I won’t announce now but there have been a lot of discussions happening within the joint venture about how we achieve those goals in the long term. When the mine is up and running we will make those announcements in due course,” Ayten said.
|For more details on Dartbrook go to: http://www.aqcltd.com/site/quality-coal/dartbrook-asset|