Image courtesy of RobSt/shutterstock.
Image courtesy of Jeremy Buckingham.
Mt Arthur coal mine produces thermal coal for power generation in domestic and export markets. Image courtesy of zedspider/shutterstock.

Mt Arthur is the biggest coal mine in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Located near the town of Muswellbrook, the Mt Arthur coal mine produces thermal coal used for power generation and is sold in both the domestic and export markets.

A wholly owned subsidiary of BHP Billiton, the mine’s full production capacity is 20 million tons per annum (Mtpa) of raw energy coal.

The company announced an expansion plan for the mine on 24 July 2009 to boost coal production from 11.5Mtpa to 15Mtpa. The expansion project was approved by the NSW government in June 2010 and completed in the first quarter of 2011.

Mt Arthur Coal Mine expansion

The expansion plan for the coal mine required an investment of A$260m. The expansion resulted in a 3.5Mtpa increase in thermal saleable coal production. The run-of-mine coal production is expected to subsequently increase to 20Mtpa.

In addition to the expansion plan, a new third coal loading facility at the Port of Newcastle was developed by Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group, a consortium in which BHP holds a 35.5% stake. Construction of the Newcastle Third Port was completed in June 2010, at a cost of A$390m.

Production at Mt Arthur coal mine

Mt Arthur is an open-cut coal mine with its mining activities centred on 21 unique seams. These seams were discovered and identified in the initial exploration activities undertaken by the company.

Mining and exploration areas of Mt Arthur coal mine comprise Bayswater no. 2 lease, Bayswater no. 3 lease and the Mt Arthur north lease. Mining at Bayswater no. 2 started in 1968, at Bayswater no. 3 in 1995 and at Mt Arthur North lease in 2002. In recent years, the company has been focussing more on the Mt Arthur North lease area.

The mine produces three products for the export market – MA-12 (12.0%ad ASH product), MA-14 (14.0%ad ASH product) and MA-16 (16.0%ad ASH product).

Mining and processing at Mt Arthur

The mined coal is moved by truck to the coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) located near the mine. The coal is then dumped into two hoppers in the CHPP.

The coal goes through initial crushing at the base of the two hoppers. From there the product is transported by a conveyor to the crushing station. Once the coal is crushed it is screened, cleaned and sorted to suit the market requirements.

The CHPP is capable of handling 2,000 tonnes per hour (tph) of raw coal, which is fed through the crusher. It can also handle 1,200tph of coal for preparation.

Transport of coal

After the coal is crushed it is transported to three locations, notably the local stockpile, the export stockpile and the export coal rail load-out facility.

Coal from the local stockpile is further transported to the Liddell and Bayswater power stations by a 10km overland conveyor.

The stock from the export stockpile is transported to the export coal rail load-out facility. Two-thirds of coal from this facility is transported to the Port of Newcastle for export.

Mt Arthur coal mine equipment

The company uses large equipment, including trucks, shovels, excavators, dozers, graders, drills and water carts.

Trucks are used to transport coal to various locations and electric shovels are used to handle overburden. Coal is loaded into the trucks with excavators.

Environmental system at Mt Arthur

BHP Billiton’s environmental management system (EMS), designed for the Mt Arthur mine, obtained ISO14001 certification in May 2003. As the area around the mine comprises horse studs, vineyards and olive groves, the company has made rehabilitation a priority. After the coal is mined, the overburden is restored, shaped and enclosed with topsoil. The area is then replanted to ensure that it matches the original landscape.

The company also developed individual management plans to address issues such as blasting, noise, water use and rehabilitation.

Environmental monitoring programmes were formulated to make employees and contractors responsible for reducing the impact of mining on the environment. These programmes include a real-time monitoring system that constantly measures noise and dust levels in and around the site. The information obtained from the system helps in regulating the environmental impact of the company’s operations.

The equipment used by the company meets international standards of noise limits.

BHP Billiton is also involved in industry-based research projects such as the Upper Hunter River Rehabilitation Initiative and the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) Cumulative Impact Study.

Future development

The company had been exploring the potential for underground mining at the site located in Bayswater no. 3.

Planning approval for the project was received in December 2008 along with a permit for 21 years of longwall mining. BHP Billiton invested approximately A$300m in the expansion project to produce 8Mtpa from underground operations. The project is currently on care and maintenance.

In March 2011, a A$400m new expansion project called RX1 was approved to increase the mine’s production to 24Mtpa.

Contractors involved

Thiess was contracted to provide load and haul services including mining overburden in 2017. The agreement was extended in 2018 to include additional services as mine operator of the southern end of the Mt Arthur Coal operations.