Whitehaven gains momentum

WHITEHAVEN Coal has reported a net loss of $A38.4 million during its Maules Creek project-building 2014 financial year, with two of its mines smashing their previous production records during the period.
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The longwall at Whitehaven Coal's Narrabri mine in NSW.

Blair Price

The net loss represented a 57% year-on-year improvement from the previous year as Whitehaven lifted productivity across its operations.

Total run of mine coal production was up 25% year on year to 9.12 million tonnes, while saleable coal production increased 23% and total coal sales ended up 18% higher than the previous year to 8.73Mt.

The Narrabri longwall operation in New South Wales’ Gunnedah Basin led the charge with a 54% year-on-year gain in production to an annual record of 5.66Mt.

This run included setting a weekly production record of 257,000 tonnes ROM in the final week of June and a quarterly output record of 1.9Mt ROM in the December quarter.

In the case of the 257,000t weekly output, this hectic rate equates to more than 13Mt when annualised – far beyond the mine’s nameplate capacity of 6 million tonnes per annum.

The Gunnedah Basin coal producer also noted that there were two longwall change-outs in the recent financial year, which reduced coal cutting time by a total of about nine weeks.

The mine is expected to have just one longwall move per year as the length of the extraction panels increase in the future.

“Narrabri achieved annualised production rates well in excess of the mine nameplate capacity for significant periods and especially in the final weeks of the year,” Whitehaven CEO Paul Flynn said.

“The performance in that period points to the future potential of the mine.”

He was also impressed with the ROM production increases at the Tarrawonga (7% higher year on year) and Werris Creek (40% higher year on year) open cut mines.

“At Werris Creek the team took full advantage of the additional capital invested in the mine by ensuring that the new capacity level was achieved soon after the expansion work was completed,” Flynn said.

“At Tarrawonga our small team was able to improve productivity across the site and produced a new production record for the mine.”

The Rocglen open cut coal mine was a different story as its ROM production slipped 2% from the previous year, with difficult mining conditions plus cuts to the strip ratio and workforce numbers occurring over the last six months of 2013.

Maules Creek and Vickery projects

The giant $767 million Maules Creek open cut mine in the Gunnedah Basin, which is targeting annual production costs of $64 per tonne once it is operational next year, was more than 50% built by late June and remains on budget and schedule.

“Looking ahead, commencement of construction at Maules Creek is a major milestone for Whitehaven in our target of creating Australia’s premier listed coal company,” Flynn said.

“I am pleased to report that the project is on track for first coal to be railed in March 2015.

“The combination of Narrabri and Maules Creek, when it is fully ramped, will make Whitehaven one of the largest and lowest cost coal producers in Australia.”

Maules Creek is targeting 6Mtpa of coal production over the first 12 months and has approval to ramp up to 13Mtpa ROM, while Whitehaven is also expecting the site to deliver about 2.1Mt of pre-commercial ROM and coal sales of 1.8Mt for FY15.

Over to Whitehaven’s joint venture partner hunt for its wholly owned Vickery project, considered to have similar thermal coal to Maules Creek, the company said it had received expressions of interest from several parties.

The project is 25km north of Gunnedah and is targeting production of up to 4.5Mtpa.

It has potential expansion scope to more than 8Mtpa and needs rail infrastructure.