Rio Tinto has gained approval from the New South Wales (NSW) planning assessment commission for the smaller expansion of its Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine in Hunter Valley.
The approval to expand the mine in New South Wales, Australia, will allow Rio Tinto to commence mining a small parcel of land within the original, larger expansion proposal.
However, the final decision on the proposed larger expansion for the mine lies with NSW Supreme Court.
The company planned to extend the mine 15km south-west of Singleton, further west and south-west, extending its life expectancy to 2031. It was given the ministerial consent to do so in February 2013.
Rio believes that the approval will enable the coal mine to maintain production, as well as employment as close as possible to existing levels for close to two years.
Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, which has been in operation for 30 years, supplies international and domestic markets with up to ten million tonnes of semi-soft coking coal and thermal coal per annum.
In May last year, the court overturned the state government's approval for the expansion of the project, owned by Rio's subsidiary Coal & Allied, citing environmental and social concerns.
NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said the decision will enable Coal & Allied to maintain production at existing levels for around two years, while protecting the livelihoods of over 1,300 local workers and their families during the period.
"This project has been operating for over thirty years and is an economic mainstay for the region, driving significant local economic activity. In 2012, the mine spent more than $210 million on close to 280 local suppliers in the Upper Hunter Valley," Galilee said.
"This direct spending also generated significant additional economic activity right across the Hunter region."
Image: Mount Thorley Warkworth mine supplies up to ten million tonnes of semi-soft coking coal and thermal coal per annum. Photo: courtesy of Rio Tinto.