As Gujarat NRE employees continue to face an uncertain future and Helensburgh Colliery workers remain on strike, one Illawarra miner is pushing ahead, serving as a beacon of hope for a struggling industry.
Documents recently obtained by the Illawarra Mercury reveal Korean-owned Hume Coal, with its mining lease covering about 89 square kilometres in the Southern Highlands, could produce around 4.1 million tonnes per annum of coal once its proposed mine is constructed.
The data is contained in a pre-feasibility study conducted by specialist valuation firm Lonergan Edwards and Associates on behalf of former 30per cent Hume Coal owner Cockatoo coal.
The study was provided to Cockatoo shareholders in June just before the company sold its stake in the Hume Coal project to focus its resources on its Queensland Baralaba project.
Although Hume Coal is yet to finalise its Environmental Impact Assessment, the pre-feasibility study paints a picture of the mine’s likely output if approval is granted by state and federal governments.
It estimates 451million tonnes of coal could be lying beneath the exploration licence – a marked increase compared to a 2010 estimate of 115million tonnes.
The underground mine is expected to have a lifespan of 20 years.
The pre-feasibility study said the type of coal produced at the mine would be split between a soft coking coal product and a ‘‘high ash thermal coal’’ product.
Any coal produced would be exported through Port Kembla.
New figures, provided by Hume Coal, also reveal the miner is expecting to employ more than 300 workers, and anticipates an additional 900 jobs would be created as a flow-on effect.
The pre-feasibility study suggests 15 kilometres of overhead power lines stretching from Endeavour Energy Moss Vale Zone substation would be required to supply energy to the project.
However, a Hume Coal spokesman said any ‘‘speculation about mining methods and surface infrastructure [was] extremely premature’’.
‘‘Hume Coal is currently reviewing the pre-feasibility study previously undertaken on behalf of the former joint venture,’’ the spokesman said.
Questions also exist relating to the quality of the product Hume Coal would produce, as the study states: ‘‘the high ash content of Hume thermal coal is likely to limit its market penetration’’.
Although not willing to comment on associated infrastructure, Hume Coal project manager Tim Rheinberger said exploration indicated ‘‘a significant resource of metallurgical quality coal that would be used in steelmaking’’.
‘‘The latest coal quality data has exceeded previous expectations in terms of the steelmaking qualities of the coal,’’ he said.
The project will also face continued opposition from the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group, which cites a support base of several thousand.
Group spokesman Alan Lindsay said central to residents’ concerns was the damage the proposed mine could do to the underground aquifer.
‘‘People in that area depend on the water, there are people who use large-scale irrigation,’’ he said.
‘‘The damage to the water table is quite clear, it’s been demonstrated by studies that have been done.’’
Mr Lindsay said residents were also concerned the mine would cause property values to plummet by up to 50 per cent.
The Hume Coal spokesman said once a feasibility study review was completed – likely to be some time in 2014 – a final option would be selected and used to develop a detailed project description.