THE worst has passed for Ensham coal mine as the floodwaters in the Nogoa River downstream of Emerald begin receding.
Floodwaters at the mine peaked on Wednesday night— marking a major turning point – and Ensham is now clearly focused on recommencing normal operations.
Returning employees are already operating the two draglines, continuously removing overburden to uncover coal ready for mining, crushing and screening from parts of the 30 kilometre long mine which are not flood-affected.
The largest dragline, a Bucyrus 8750-63, is expected to recommence work in the coming week.
Ensham General Manager Operations Peter Westerhuis said the Nogoa River levels are gradually falling and Ensham is preparing to drain water from two flooded pits and recover the stranded Marion 8050 dragline which was trapped in rising floodwaters last weekend.
While the challenge in front of them is enormous, Westerhuis says Ensham is committed to getting operations back on track and miners back to work as quickly as possible.
Already 20% of the Ensham workforce is working to prepare for the resumption of operations, with the remainder on standby on full pay.
“We already have two of our draglines operating and a third will uncovering coal within a week.
“Coal shipments will start again soon — although initially this will take a little longer to re-establish and will be at subdued levels,” Westerhuis said.
Key priorities are draining the two flooded pits and retrieving the flooded 3000 tonne Marion dragline which was trapped by floodwaters.
Planning is also underway to restore road access to the mine and internal ramps and haul roads to allow coal trucks to deliver coal to the Ensham railhead from the four unaffected pits.
A decision will be made on future deployment of contractors to assist in flood recovery and infrastructure repairs in the coming week or so as situation becomes clearer.
“We have some clever people here,” Westerhuis said.
“They are already devising an alternative access road from the North.
“They are discussing plans with Government to drain the river water out of the two flooded pits by constructing channels and by bringing in flood pumps similar to those used after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.”
At the same time Ensham has been in close contact with its coal customers to inform them of progress on a daily basis so that force majeure can be lifted at the earliest opportunity and individual energy supply contracts restored.
Westerhuis said Ensham was renowned around the world for the high quality of its thermal coal, so it was vital that the trapped river water was removed from the flooded pits which supply these customers as soon as humanly possible.
“As well, Ensham is a major employer and large contributor to the regional economy and generates significant royalties for the state of Queensland,” Westerhuis said.