Australia's Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has accepted a modified proposal made by BHP Billiton for the extension of the life of its Mount Arthur coal mine in Hunter Valley.
The revised plan will allow the company to extend the life-of-mine by four years to 2026 and extract an additional 128 million tonnes (Mt) of coal.
However, the mine will maintain its production rate of 32Mt a year.
The extension proposal has been approved subject to certain conditions set by PAC, including the requirement for the company to list Mount Arthur's blasting activity on the Muswellbrook Shire Council to keep the public informed.
The approved modifications include taking the equipment fleet from 193 to 291 vehicles and increasing blasting times from two to three a day. PAC has allowed the mine to carry out blasting four times a day for 12 days a year.
The relaxation of blast times and frequency will allow the mine to fully utilise favourable weather conditions and reduce its impact on nearby communities.
BHP was quoted by The Herald as saying: "[PAC's approval] was consistent with the findings and recommendation of the director-general of the Department of Planning and Environment that the benefits of the modification project outweigh its impacts and it is in the public interest.
"BHP Billiton will continue to work with the community and relevant stakeholders to ensure impacts from its operations are appropriately managed and mitigated and compliance with its obligations under the conditions are achieved."
While clearing the proposal, PAC has observed that blasting has been a key issue of concern to the local community, which has registered 153 complaints between 2007 and 2011. However, only three exceedances were recorded during the period.
In July this year, the mine was fined $3,000 for failing to meet air quality standards. Additionally, the blasting carried out by the company led to the spread of toxic chemicals to the nearby industrial estate.
Image: Mount Arthur Coal mine in New South Wales, Australia. Photo: courtesy of BHP Billiton.