Nicholls was production and mine manager at Xstrata’s Beltana-Blakefield South operations, considered the jewel in Xstrata’s crown before Blakefield-South was closed due to a fire in January.
NuCoal managing director Glen Lewis told ILN:"Leigh resigned from Xstrata several weeks ago and when I heard I interviewed him and offered the job.
"While many of us are ex Xstrata, no one has been targeted and, other than Leigh, they have openly applied to advertised positions."
Nicholls takes the place of Gary Cambourn – another former Beltana lynch pin – who has been promoted to the position of general manager of operations for NuCoal, which is planning to complete the prefeasibility study for Doyles Creek by April 2012.
Nicholls is a degree qualified mining engineer and holds a NSW Mine Managers Certificate of Competency.
Since graduating from university, he has held numerous operational roles within Xstrata Coal in NSW and Queensland working as a shift undermanager, longwall coordinator and mine manager.
Lewis, who is also an Xstrata veteran, said, “I have worked with Gary throughout the past 22 years and firmly believe he is an ideal person to lead the operational development of NuCoal’s assets.
“With the assistance of Leigh as project manager for the Doyles Creek Underground Mine and Training School, I am confident that the project will develop into a world class operation with the added benefit of providing hands on experience for industry trainees.”
When Lewis left Xstrata to form NuCoal in 2009 he had 15 years experience with the company.
He is a qualified coal mine manager and held senior management roles, including production manager, mine manager and general manager of underground operations, from 2003 to 2008 for Xstrata Coal NSW.
In that role Lewis was responsible for up to six of Xstrata's operating underground mines in NSW and several projects under construction.
The majority of the Blakefield South workforce has been redeployed to other Xstrata mines, such as Ravensworth North and the nearby Beltana mine in the Upper Hunter Valley.
Blakefield South was designed to replace Beltana, which was an Australian longwall production leader for several years.
While Beltana was scheduled to cease mining at the end of 2010, the last panel is still being extracted.
Blakefield South’s new longwall was commissioned in June and production capacity was estimated to be around 4 million tonnes per annum in December.