Anglo American and Fitzroy Australia are doing more than just mining coal in the Bowen Basin. They’re also investing in modern technology and the culture of their people. Vanessa Zhou writes.
Deep in the Bowen Basin coal region in Queensland at least two of its mining companies are enhancing their operations with initiatives focussed on technology and people.
Global miner Anglo American, for one, has become a powerhouse of technology, safety and sustainability through its history of developing five metallurgical coal mines in the region.
This vision goes hand in hand with the company’s plans to sustain and grow production.
Anglo American plans to expand the Moranbah-Grosvenor coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP), which processes metallurgical coal from its Moranbah North and Grosvenor mines
The expansion would improve capacity by 30 to 40 per cent if it goes ahead.
Through Anglo American’s regional presence in the Bowen Basin, the company has become the world’s third largest exporter of metallurgical coal, and Australia’s largest underground coal miner.
Anglo American is also leveraging its massive scale to make mines safer and more productive in Australia as technology advances and the costs to implement it decrease.
The company’s recently approved Aquila project will be propped up by operation-sustaining technologies that will see it become one of the most technologically-advanced underground mines in the world.
Aquila will feature a longwall shear that is controlled from the surface, the same innovation that Anglo American has already introduced at the Grosvenor mine in 2018.
“(The Grosvenor shear is) an Australian-first and a major step forwards full automation and surface operation of longwall mining,” Anglo American’s metallurgical coal business Tyler Mitchelson tells Australian Mining.
“We are now building our internal capabilities to deliver more complex, integrated automation solutions, which have the capacity to create safer working conditions for our people and drive the next level of performance at our underground mines.”
Despite the company’s metallurgical coal focus, it is not turning away from other opportunities in the Bowen Basin region.
Mitchelson says Anglo American has been granted permits to explore an area of around 10,800 square kilometres in North West Queensland.
The presence of deposits such as Mount Isa, Ernest Henry and Cannington in Northern and Western Queensland make it a logical place to explore for various styles of base metal deposits, including copper, according to Mitchelson.
“Exploration activities have commenced in Mount Isa South region, west of Boulia, including geophysical surveys using cutting-edge geoscience technology, and at the end of the year, we will assess the survey results to determine future exploration plans,” he says.
Fitzroy Australia Resources has growth aspirations of its own in the Bowen Basin as the privately-owned company mulls over reopening the Broadlea open cut metallurgical coal operation.
Broadlea was mothballed by Vale in 2009 but had a successful campaign under Fitzroy Australia in 2017–2018 after it was acquired.
Fitzroy chief executive Grant Polwarth says the open cut mine represents “an opportunistic campaign” to continue to diversify the company’s product mix and incrementally grow the portfolio.
The company continues to advance a bord and pillar mine assessment at its Broadlea Central underground mine.
Elsewhere, the company has halted construction of its Ironbark No. 1 underground hard coking coal project in light of market and global economic volatility.
The Ironbark No. 1 project, which is fully permitted and shovel ready for construction and execution, was initially scheduled to reach production in first quarter 2020.
“Fitzroy is always prepared to make the difficult decisions and remains dynamic in responding to the macro-economic environment while pursuing other growth opportunities in the portfolio at this time,” Polwarth says.
“Ironbark No. 1 is one of the lowest capital intensity new metallurgical coal projects in Australia and will be constructed, however the current deferment is an opportunity to continue to optimise the project and an example of modifying our strategy to achieve the best outcomes for our people and shareholders.”
Despite Fitzroy being a relatively young company that was formed in 2016, it is bravely leading by example for the rest of the metallurgical coal industry.
From recruitment, training and inductions, to the moment its workers walk through the gate and to the coal face, Polwarth wants people to sense its difference to elsewhere in the industry, and he’s not afraid to show it off.
Fitzroy Australia opened its Carborough Downs underground mine to over 800 employee-family members for Family Open Days in October, the first time members from outside the sector have been given this access to the site.
“We were blown away by the response from friends and family who had travelled from as far as New Zealand and across Queensland and New South Wales to see where their mums, dads, sons and daughters come to work and how we care for one another,” Polwarth says.
“It was an incredibly proud moment to acknowledge and thank the unsung heroes of our industry: the wives, husbands, parents, partners and families of the Fitzroy team.”
Fitzroy Australia has also completed a longwall expansion of its own to the northern measures of Carborough Downs. The longwall project has consolidated bord and pillar operations to maximise reserve extraction for the company.
Polwarth believes is developing as a company from strength to strength, “with extensive investment in our people, recruitment and assets to underpin an exciting future.”
“We aspire to be the next great Australian mining house and fully appreciate that to achieve this vision, we must be people business that mines metallurgical coal,” Polwarth says.
“We need to continue to challenge industry norms and differentiate ourselves in a very competitive market – there is nothing more important to Fitzroy than our approach to people and culture.”
Just like Anglo American aims to “re-imaging mining to improve people’s lives”, both Bowen Basin miners are delivering on their commitment to the community through cutting-edge technology and real engagement.
This article will appear in the December edition of Australian Mining.