Despite the downturn in coal, not every mine is shutting up shop.
With expansion plans in the works, GlencoreXstrata’s open cut Mangoola coal mine is a hot topic with locals, rumours and opinions are flying at the local pubs and in regional media.
Australian Mining recently visited the site located about 20 kilometres west of the Hunter Valley town of Muswellbrook to find out what’s going on.
Employing about 300 people, the mine is a major source of local employment and any change to operations is sure to have a flow on effect for residents.
The mine’s expansion plans which are currently under review, propose to ramp up production by almost 30 per cent to 13.5 million tonnes of coal a year; a move it estimates will create 150 new jobs.
Australian Mining looks at the many facets of this mine and how it is preparing for the future.
Originally called Anvil Hill and owned by Centennial Coal, Mangoola was approved by the NSW State Government in 2008 under the proviso it did “not discharge any saline water from the site’’.
But the project modification includes installing a water discharge point, not for everyday use but to mitigate water management risks by providing the ability to manage water issues in prolonged wet periods, an issue highlighted by the flooded Queensland coal mines two years ago.
The site is already a net water user and remains a zero release site, Mangoola Coal operations manager Tony Israel explained the mine has already pumped in 3000 mega litres from the Hunter River this year.
“We need more water than we’ve got,” he said.
“Because we’re going to be producing more we’re actually going to need more water.”
Israel explained that the discharge point is purely a “risk management strategy” for “peace of mind” to limit the instance of dams over flowing.
“Every mine has a discharge point, we want to have the reassurance that we can discharge,” he said.
“It’s a very regulated process, when you do discharge water it’s under very controlled conditions to minimise the environmental impact.
“I don’t want us to have detrimental affects on the environment, we need a balance.
“I don’t want to have an uncontrolled overflow.
“We need the plans in place, having a discharge point is a fundamental strategy to manage risk.”
Air and dust management
An increasingly important aspect of the mines social licence to operate is ensuring air quality is maintained to community and regulatory standards.
While the mine has received criticism for dust levels by some members of the local community, Israel says Mangoola is operating under best practice standards to mitigate concerns and said it is working closely with the community on ways to minimise potential impacts.
The mine has implemented monitors on site that record air quality and dust levels in real time 24 hours a day so the mine has more control over how operations affect local areas and can change tact accordingly on any given day.
“We are part of this community too,” Israel said.
“We don’t want to impact on the environment.
The company is also tailoring mining activities around weather patterns to minimise dust levels emanating from the mine, and use an agricultural wetting agent on stockpiles.
A predictive system based off the Bureau of Meteorology’s projections combined with air quality models to predict air quality emissions not only allow the mine to react, but to also look forward in an attempt to mitigate any potential issues before they arise.
Additionally, the company will be expanding the zone for the installation of the first flush system on residential water tanks to include landowners within six kilometres of the disturbance boundary, while residential rainwater tanks will be cleaned out once a year.
The location of the mine in the Wybong valley opens it up to temperature aversions causing noise to carry, bouncing off higher atmospheric temperatures.
Recognising this, operations are altered when the temperature dips at night in an attempt to keep ambient noise in the area low, accommodating the requests of nearby residents.
“We are operating below compliance,” Israel said.
But the mine was still receiving complaints from neighbours.
Taking the feedback on board, Mangoola recently took another look at its operations and has now developed customised noise attenuated equipment.
“Our people aren’t dumb equipment operators; they know the impacts the mine has and are aware of noise, dust, and vibration impacts,” he said.
The mine determined the complaints centred around track slap noise which occurs when dozers are reversing.
With this in mind the mine enlisted the help of a Mickala Mining Services who customised a steel structure dubbed the Armadillo, to fully enclose the dozer’s drive areas which muffles track slap noise.
Since the Armadillo has been fitted and the implementation of a first gear only rule for dozers operating at night, noise complaints have dropped off.
Maintaining a social licence to mine is increasingly important for miners.
But what this entails is not clear cut, no longer is it about throwing money into communities and sponsoring the local rugby team, rather the concept has evolved to creating meaningful and engaging community spaces, events, or projects.
Recognising this, Mangoola runs a number of community outreach programs which are transforming the face of surrounding towns.
Located about 20 kilometres from the mine’s entrance, Sandy Hollow used to be a drive through town with a school, a pub, and a service station.
However, local artist David Mahoney with the help of the mine has established a vibrant gallery and art park which serves great coffee and has become a draw card with locals and tourists alike.
The mine donated a number of sizeable rocks to create the art park, organising a local transport company to move them into place, creating a space where sculptors now come to try their hand at creating something out of the formations.
Recognising that the mine’s legacy needs to be more than a hole in the ground or rehabilitated hills, GlencoreXstrata have also enlisted the help of local organisation “Men’s Shed” to build 300 bird nesting boxes for the site.
Promoting community engagement is a fundamental exercise for the mine, especially as a majority of its workforce live locally.
With the current spate of job cuts seen across the Hunter Valley region in recent months as prices continue to weigh down on the coal industry, employing from within the local community is now more important than ever.
Mangoola say they are committed to hiring locals where possible, with career progression a central theme at the mine.
To this end, Israel said experience was not necessarily the most important mark the company look for when recruiting, with the company running a ‘clean skin’ program to help people with little or no mine site experience to gain work.
The first intake saw 57 per cent of people hired new to the industry, with the mine also boasting an industry-high level of women working at the site at 21 per cent.
“Character, chemistry and competence are the traits we look for when recruiting,” Israel said.
“Are they going to fit in? Will they work well in a team? These are the questions we ask.”
And once people get a foot in there are no barriers to promotion, with the company rewarding hard work with training and development.
“We create a career path for people,” Israel said.
This includes training on diversified equipment for those who have shown their worth, to step up supervisor roles aimed at skilling up employees up so they can take the next step in their career.
“There should be no barriers.” Israel said.
And with a further 150 jobs up for grabs if the expansion is approved, including 90 contractor roles, the company said the benefits to the local community were substantial with people proud to say they work at the mine.
“We work with our people’s needs,” Israel said.