A major Illawarra coalminer is facing a race against the clock to get its underground expansion plans approved so that mining can continue, planning documents reveal.
Gujarat NRE Coking Coal has warned that any significant delay in longwall operations at its NRE No 1 mine at Russell Vale could have implications for suppliers, contractors and employees.
The statement was included in the company's frank response to submissions on its recent application to extend the mine.
The company this week reported its highest coal production in a quarter, 544,000 tonnes to September 30, from its two mines in the region.
Planning authorities are now considering Gujarat's application to modify an existing "preliminary works" approval at Russell Vale to open a new longwall and three underground access roads.
The company has already completed mining its approved area, Longwall 4.
It has started shifting equipment to the new area, Longwall 5, but is yet to receive approval to mine.
Separately, it has submitted a major expansion application for future underground workings.
In its response to submissions, Gujarat said it would have preferred one approval for the next 20 years, but the "piecemeal" approach was "unavoidable" to ensure continuity of operations.
"Any delay in longwall operations will have a significant commercial impact on NRE's operations," it said.
"A significant delay may have implications for suppliers, contractors and employees.
"Neither of these outcomes is desired by NRE.
"As a result this current modification application . . . has been brought forward out of the much larger Underground Expansion Project . . . application."
It also responded to serious environmental concerns raised by critics, including several government agencies.
Gujarat said last month it had begun seeking necessary approvals in 2008 and had so far spent $4.1 million on studies and reports to support the approvals.
"This database is being expanded with further monitoring and investigations and it is anticipated that at least a further $4 million will be spent over the next three to four years," it said.
The company has an ally for the mine extension in the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
In its submission, the union highlighted cost pressures including falling coking coal prices and said it believed not granting the modification would "inevitably" risk coal mining and "downstream" jobs.
"While it is important to consider and understand the full gambit of potential environmental impacts . . . this must also be put into context with the history of mining in the area."