Bloomfield looks long term

BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal will continue to invest in technology to ensure sustainability of underground coal mining alongside residential, infrastructure and environmentally sensitive areas, company president Colin Bloomfield told the 10th Coal Operators’ Conference. Lou Caruana reports from Wollongong.
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Former BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal president and current Mastermyne chairman Colin Bloomfield.

Lou Caruana

Citing BHP’s successful 75-year tradition of sustainable mining in the Illawarra region, Bloomfield said the company – which sold 6.2 million tonnes of coal in 2009 financial year – would continue to be a significant supplier to the local steel industry and a major employer in the future as it has more than 30 years of reserves at its Bulli Seams and Wongawilli Seams.

But he said conditions were becoming more challenging and more innovations will be needed to tackle the issues of safety, fugitive gas emissions and subsidence, as well as continue to improve productivity.

“There are factors that for too long have not been part of the underground industry,” Bloomfield said.

“With the help of OEMs such as Joy we are seeking to increase the use of IT and automation in the underground environment.”

The company will continue to pursue risk-based safety behaviour systems that it begun in the mid-1990s to ensure that safety is entrenched in its culture.

It is also planning to facilitate greater awareness of safety by developing an “underground communications system for the 21st century”

iPICK (Information Point Illawarra Coal Kiosks) are being developed which will provide touch-screen kiosks for all employees of the mine – both above and underground – that give access to important information and vital records.

Methane drainage is becoming more important, especially at its Appin mine, which has a gas content of 15 cubic metres per tonne at its Bulli seam.

“We still need more solutions – longer holes that can drain carbon dioxide from the lower permeability zones,” Bloomfield said.

“There are also some fluid mechanic challenges in continuous miner operations.

“We are working with OEMs to replace hydraulic hoses with stainless steel pipes.”

Environmental impact and surface impacts continue to be a priority for the company.

“We have had no major impacts to waterways since 2002,” he said.

He also said new survey techniques were being developed with aerial laser scanning being used to monitor subsidence to a great level of detail.

The company will pursue a policy of methane abatement through oxidisation rather than through dilution with oxygen, Bloomfield said.

Its Westcliff colliery will be abating 200,000 tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide through its oxidising process.

Illawarra Coal continues to operate with sensitivity to existing infrastructure and will be mining under the Hume Highway near Appin, Bloomfield said.

The Coal 2010 Conference, being held at the University of Wollongong, is now in its tenth year, according to the chairman of the conference, associate professor Naj Aziz.

More than 180 delegates attended the conference – including from China, the United Kingdom and the United States – to hear a total of 39 papers covering topics from mine design to the sustainability of the industry.

“The underground operators’ conference has now been recognised as a forum for the regular exchange of ideas between mine operators, engineers and researchers in coal mining,” Aziz said.

“Many of the improvements in practices and uses of technology that have been introduced in to the Australian coal industry during the last decade have been first outlined, or demonstrated at these Underground Coal Operators conferences.

“The technology transfer into industry achieved through these events has been a major contributing factor to Australia’s position as the world’s leading exporter of coal.”