The Maules Creek coal mine is located in New South Wales, Australia. Image courtesy of TUBS.
Maules Creek is one of the few high-quality undeveloped coal mines in Australia. Image: File image.
Mining of the box-cut began in August 2014. Image courtesy of Whitehaven Coal Limited.

Maules Creek is the biggest coal mine under construction and one of the few tier-one, undeveloped coal deposits in Australia. The mine is located in New South Wales and developed by a subsidiary of Aston Resources, Whitehaven Coal, which holds a 75% interest in the property. ITOCHU and J-Power hold interest shares of 15% and 10% respectively.

Final approvals for the project were granted in July 2013; construction works began in January 2014 and mining in the box cut started in the following August. The first coal from the mine was railed in December 2014, three months ahead of schedule. Commercial operations at the mine started in July 2015, but was officially opened that September.

Maules Creek mine is expected to produce up to 13 million tonnes (Mt) of coal a year, with 12.4Mt of this railed. Approximately 600 jobs were created during project construction. It is further expected to create 500 new local positions. The project’s total investment was $767m. The deposit is estimated to have an operational life of more than 30 years.

Maules Creek coal mine details, geology and reserves

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The coal mine is located approximately 18km north-east of Boggabri and 16km from the main railway line that transports coal to the Port of Newcastle. The deposit was acquired from Coal & Allied in 2010 and is located on the CL375 and A346 tenements. The Maules Creek deposit is expected to produce 6Mtpa in the initial stages and up to 13Mtpa after three years.

Maules Creek is located within the Gunnedah Basin in New South Wales, which consists of sedimentary coal sequences of the Permian Era (253 million to 303 million years ago). It is classified as a multi-seam, shallow-dipping deposit with consistent quality across most key parameters.

Coal seams found at Maules Creek are some of the oldest known, and are located on the eastern edge of the Gunnedah Basin. The deposit dips down to the east and comprises coal seams of consistent thicknesses.

The JORC-compliant reserves at Maules Creek mine are estimated to be 362Mt, while the resources are estimated as 610Mt.

Mining and processing of ore at coal mine

Maules Creek is a box-cut mine utilising conventional truck and shovel method. The project will recover all 15 open-cut mineable coal seams in the mining sequence.

The major mining fleet at the project comprises Hitachi EX3600 and EX8000 excavators, EH5000 trucks, Caterpillar 789D trucks, and other ancillary fleet machines.

The run-of-mine (ROM) coal is hauled to the ROM stockpile and delivered to the crushing facility. Coal is either washed or bypassed at the coal handling and processing plant (CHPP), which has a capacity of 1,600tph. The washed coal is blended with bypass coal to produce uniform products.

Saleable product coal is transported by trains to the Port of Newcastle for export either as metallurgical coal or premium, low-ash thermal coal.

Construction and infrastructure facilities

Major works at the coal mine included construction of the CHPP, access roads, infrastructure and a bridge and rail line across the Namoi River.

“Washed coal is blended with bypass coal to produce uniform products.”

A rail spur has been built to connect Maules Creek to the Gunnedah rail system, which is located approximately 16km away. The rail spur has been constructed and operated in a joint venture with Boggabri Coal, under an agreement made in December 2011.

Water is sourced from the Namoi River via a water pipeline. Construction of the water pipeline started in December 2013 and was completed in March 2014.

Power supply is provided by the TransGrid’s 132kV/22kV Substation via a new high-voltage (132kV) transmission line.

Contractors involved with Maules Creek

Leighton Contractors was awarded the contract for construction of a rail loop in October 2013. The building contract for CHPP was awarded to Downer, with Sedgman receiving a design and procurement contract for it.

Ditchfield was engaged to conduct bulk earth works, while Stripes Engineering provided the water supply pipeline and associated components.

JB Mining services conducted the resource estimation, while Minarco was engaged to prepare the JORC-compliant reserve estimates. WRM Water & Environment was engaged to assess the mine’s surface water requirements.

NRI Energy Technology