BHP will be looking at the prospect of trialling automated haul trucks at the Mount Arthur coal mine, a decision that will be finalised in the next 12 months.
If implemented, this would be the first trial of autonomous mining haul trucks in NSW, which was flagged by BHP coal boss Dean Dalla Vale early this year.
BHP has already been testing driverless haul trucks at their Jimblebar iron ore mine in Western Australia for more than 12 months, and will soon ramp up the fleet from nine to 12 trucks.
A BHP spokesperson told Australian Mining Mt Arthur is on the cusp of beginning an identification study into the requirements of such a trial, such as examining potential suppliers, equipment, and equipment modifications to suit the mine.
The identification study will be completed by the end of FY15, after which BHP Mt Arthur will determine whether to proceed with the trial.
"If a decision is made to go forward with a field trial, the autonomous truck project would be conducted by a dedicated project team in an area of the mine pit separate from main operations," the spokesperson said.
"No decision has been made, but we will continue to keep our employees updated."
The Planning and Assessment Commission recently approved an extension of the Mt Arthur coal mine operations until 2026, on the grounds that it would facilitate employment of up to 2600 workers, Newcastle Herald reported.
NSW member of the legislative council for the Greens Jeremy Buckingham said the prospect of a new trial indicated “the absolute hypocrisy of these multinational coal companies”.
“They use the spectre of job losses to demand mining approvals, while at the same time act to implement measures that cut employment,” Buckingham said.
Last week Mt Arthur announced 150 jobs at the mine would be cut, bringing the number of redundancies at the mine to 500 for the past 12 months.
Mt Arthur currently runs four crews of haul truck drivers, with 80 trucks operating each shift.