Whitehaven optimises NSW operations amid global slowdown

The Vickery coal mine. Image: Whitehaven Coal.

Whitehaven Coal expects to receive a government approval for its Vickery extension project in New South Wales in the next few weeks.

The company hopes to jack up Vickery’s capacity to 10 million tonnes a year with on-site processing and rail infrastructure – a boost from the current 4.5 million tonnes capacity of run-of-mine (ROM) coal a year.

Whitehaven acquired the mine from Rio Tinto back in 2010, with extension plans to construct an open-cut coal mine and associated on-site infrastructure about 25 kilometres north of Gunnedah.

In May this year, Whitehaven received the all-clear from the NSW Government Department of Planning and Environment, with the final call for green lighting the project awaiting the result of the second public hearings held by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

Prior to the acquisition, Rio had undertaken small-scale underground and larger-scale open cut mining on-site from 1991 to 1998.

Whitehaven continued its progress on design work for the coal handling and preparation plant, rail spur and other infrastructure during the June quarter.

“Against an uncertain global economic backdrop, Whitehaven is focussed on optimising existing operations and observing disciplined capital management,” Whitehaven chief executive Paul Flynn said.

The company achieved a record ROM coal production of 8.2 million tonnes in the June quarter, up 17 per cent on the previous corresponding period.

It also met its production guidance with 20.6 million tonnes for the 2020 financial year on the back of record quarterly output at the Maules Creek open cut mine in New South Wales (4.17 million tonnes of managed production).

Whitehaven’s output at Maules Creek, however, was 1 million tonnes below the previous financial year due to labour shortages, drought conditions and regional bushfires.

“Despite drought, bushfires and COVID-19 it was great to finish the year so strongly and achieve our ROM and managed sales guidance,” Flynn said.

“We recorded our best ever safety result – 4.13 TRIFR (total recordable injury frequency rate) – which is a credit to the team and the strong safety culture we are building across sites.”

Whitehaven also met its production guidance at the Narrabri underground longwall mine in New South Wales with 6.1 million attributable tonnes.

However, the company couldn’t replicate the same result at the Gunnedah open cut mines in New South Wales, producing 200,000 tonnes below its 2020 financial year guidance of 4–4.5 million tonnes a year.

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