Opening up new open cuts

While many predicted the threat of a heavy mining tax would stop, or at the very least slow the resources industry, clearly some were not listening.

Expanding its already massive coal arm, Rio Tinto has officially opened Australia’s newest open cut thermal coal mine at Clermont.

Construction on the mine and associated infrastructure started back in 2007, with the first shipment of coal delivered in May this year.

Holding a 190 million tonnes of coal, the mine has an expected life span of 17 years with production expected to peak at more than 12 million tonnes per year of export coal and 100 thousand tonnes for domestic use when the mine reaches capacity in 2013.

Rio’s global chief executive energy Doug Ritchie told the hundreds gathered at the opening of the mine that it was special for many reasons.

“It has five coal seams that are particularly thick, the Wolfgang seam is 35 metres thick on average and up to 100 metres in some places.”

With the seams located under a large volume of overburden, Rio built it’s only inpit crusher/conveyor system on site.

“This will reduce annual truck running costs by more than 35%,” Ritchie said.

While the majority of the mine’s coal can be crushed and sold directly for export markets such as Korea, Japan and Thailand, it also has a small coal processing plant that uses paste thickening technology.

Using this technology eliminated the need for a conventional tailings dam on site.

Now that the mine has officially opened, Clermont is aiming to continue to play a strong part in the local community’s future.

In 2009 alone, Clermont contributed more than $610 000 to community projects.

It is looking to replace the role of the neighbouring Rio Tinto Blair Athol Mine, where closure is currently planned for 2016.

The Blair Athol mine has been central to the region over the past 25 years and Clermont Mine will extend this into the future, Ritchie said.

Clermont will also send its processed coal along a newly constructed 13 kilometre conveyor to the older mine, using the existing equipment at Blair Athol for stockpiling and railing to port.

More than 10 000 applications were received during the mine’s recruitment drive, with people such as Clermont local Brad Perrin and Rebecca Chilcott finding jobs at the site.

Having worked at both Blair Athol and Clermont as well as growing up nearby, Brad Perrin had a unique perspective.

“Rio Tinto has built a good relationship with its near neighbours and done their utmost to minimise the impact on the area,” Perrin said.

Some of this minimisation includes the protection of endangered plant species found near the site.

The mine has entered into an agreement where it will sponsor University of Queensland research into one of Australia’s rarest plants, the Belyando Cobblers Peg, and how to best re-establish it.

It is also part of long running research into wild koala populations in the region.

Rebecca Chilcott found her new job, driving haul trucks and water carts daunting at first but says she has really enjoyed the challenge.

During construction, the mine won an Australian Mining Prospect Award for its proactive approach to hiring women.

Currently women make up 27% of the site’s workforce, well above the QLD state average of 11%.
The mine aims to have a total of 380 people employed when fully operational.

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