Whitehaven Coal has received approval from Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for its Vickery coal mine extension project in New South Wales.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act approval represents the culmination of a five-year process of technical evaluation and stakeholder consultation.

It follows the project’s approval from the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission in August 2020, despite opposition from environmental groups and local farming communities.

The Vickery extension project involves the construction of an open-cut coal mine and associated on-site infrastructure situated 25km north of Gunnedah.

This mine will mostly produce metallurgical coal for steel making. The balance would be high-quality thermal coal destined for premium export markets.

Whitehaven said that the extension project aims to further optimise an already approved mine on a site that was extensively mined over many years.

Whitehaven said in a statement: “Against the current backdrop of record high coal prices and strong demand in seaborne markets, the company sees a continuing role for high-quality coal of the type Vickery will produce in contributing to global CO₂ emissions reduction and containment efforts while simultaneously supporting economic development in our near region.”

Estimated to require a capital investment of $498m (A$700m), the project is expected to create 500 construction jobs and 450 jobs during the operational phase.

In 2018, Whitehaven Coal filed an application to expand the Vickery Coal Project to increase coal extraction by more than 24% and boost the annual extraction rate to ten million tonnes.

It also includes building a new coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) at the site that will connect to the main Werris Creek-to-Mungindi railway line.