The underground mine will be accessed through the existing Bayswater No. 3 opencut pit and will be located adjacent to current operations at the Mt Arthur North opencut. Mt Arthur North commenced coal production in 2002 and plans to produce 15Mtpa ROM by 2007.
The Mt Arthur operation is located 5km southwest of Muswellbrook or 120km west of Newcastle and currently employs 525 workers. The Mt Arthur tenements hold reserves of 268 million recoverable tonnes as per the 21-year development consent area.
BHPB said it anticipated proposed underground operations would produce an additional 6-8Mtpa and employ 250 people when fully operational.
The underground mine would use existing surface infrastructure, including the coal preparation plant and rail loading facilities.
BHPB submitted an application during early February with the Department of Planning for the construction of an exploration adit and associated infrastructure for the extracting of a 250,000t bulk sample from the proposed underground mine.
The proposed adit, or exploration tunnel, will be used to gain a better understanding of the geological and coal quality details of the underground resource. BHPB said if approval was granted, the adit would commence in late 2006 and take 18 months to complete.
Environmental work for the environmental assessment is being undertaken by Umwelt and the social impact assessment work will be undertaken by Coakes Consulting.