PRODUCTION at Whitehaven Coal’s newest mine Maules Creek in northern NSW has ramped up to the expected early annual rate of 6 million tonnes after the operation was declared commercial on July 1, 2015. When operating at annual design capacity of 12 million tonnes in 2018, the mine will double the company’s production to more than 23 million tonnes, making it Australia’s largest independent coal producer.
Maules Creek commenced railing coal in December 2014, less than a year after construction commenced. During the quarter ending September 30, 2015, ROM coal production totalled 1.549 million tonnes with saleable production of 1.479 million tonnes and coal sales totalled 1.635 million tonnes as some of the coal stocks built up during the pre-commercial phase were washed and sold.
Performance testing of the coal preparation plant was successfully completed during the quarter with the plant operating at its design rate for the testing period. By the end of the quarter the plant had processed more than 1.0 million tonnes of coal.
The quality of coal in the upper seams at Maules Creek has generally exceeded expectations with lower ash and better coking properties evident in the seams. If the improved quality from these seams is maintained, it is possible the mine will produce and sell a higher proportion of metallurgical coal.
Some mining equipment for the next ramp-up step has arrived at site with an additional large 800-tonne class excavator and associated trucks already operating in the open cut. The full complement of additional mining equipment capable of mining at an annual rate of 8.5 million tonnes was expected to be in place and operating by the end of December. Production guidance for the current financial year is expected to be in the range of 7.1 and 7.3 million tonnes.
Whitehaven owns four open cut mines in the Gunnedah Basin - Maules Creek, Werris Creek, Tarrawonga and Rocglen – the large Narrabri underground mine and operates a Coal Handling and Processing Plant at Gunnedah. Coal travels by rail to the Port of Newcastle before being shipped to customers mostly in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and India.
Principal products are high quality, high energy, low ash and low sulphur thermal coal and metallurgical coals used in steel production. The company is growing its local workforce from 600 to more than 1100 within the next five years.