Mt Arthur is the biggest coal mine in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, 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 20Mtpa (million tons per annum) 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 New South Wales Government in June 2010 and completed in the first quarter of 2011.
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 in turn is expected to 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.
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).
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 2,000t of raw coal an hour, which is fed through the crusher. It can also handle 1,200t of coal an hour for preparation.
After the coal is crushed it is transported to three locations – 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.
The company uses huge 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.
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 has also developed individual management plans to address issues such as blasting, noise, water use and rehabilitation.
Environmental monitoring programmes have been 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 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.
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 will be investing A$300m in the expansion project, which will produce 8Mtpa from underground operations.
In March 2011, a new expansion project called RX1 was approved. The project is expected to increase the mine’s production to 24Mtpa by the second quarter of 2013. BHP Billiton will be investing A$400m in the project.
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