Rio’s Mount Thorley Warkworth application set to test new approvals process

Lodging an application to access land around its Mount Thorley Warkworth operations in the Hunter Valley this week, miner Rio Tinto said this will be a “litmus test” for the State’s new approvals process.

The miner has been fighting to expand the coal mine since the New South Wales Land and Environment Court overturned Rio’s ministerial approval in April for social and environmental reasons.

Submitting the application, Rio Tinto told The Australian the request will test the New South Wales Government’s new mining approvals process, billed to reduce duplication, cut red tape and improve regulatory outcomes for the resources sector.

Launching an appeal against the Land and Environment ruling in August, Rio this week said while it awaits a decision “seeking access to the extra land was the only real option Rio had to avoid further significant impacts on production and jobs,” the company’s coal division managing director, Chris Salisbury said.

"We are already at the point where production will drop by around a million tonnes next year regardless of any actions that can be taken now,” he said.

Salisbury said the production drop will cost NSW taxpayers millions of dollars in royalties, adding this is just the tip of the iceberg with jobs and future royalties also at risk if the future of the coal mine is not secured.

He explained this most recent application is a much smaller extension then the one that was blocked by the court and is only an interim measure.

"We don't have any choice," Salisbury told the ABC.

"We have to move now to protect the livelihoods and viability of the mine."

He said the extension is seeking access to a further 350 metres of land to continue operating.

Last year Rio managed to secure state government approval for a $US546 million development of its Warkworth mine, extending mine life from 2020 until 2033, a process which took close to four years.

The week after the approval was overruled Rio cut 40 jobs and said it would review the viability of the mine.

“Mount Thorley Warkworth mine has been operating for 30 years and this rejection threatens the jobs of the 1300 employees who rely on its future,’’  Coal & Allied managing director Darren Yeates said at the time.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.