Planning Minister Tony Kelly signed off on the approval for the project, which includes the Mt Arthur Underground proposal, on Friday.
The Mt Arthur Coal Consolidation project rolled in several proposals to mine from five new areas adjoining its existing Bayswater and Mt Arthur North open cuts.
Under the approval, BHP can extract up to 32Mtpa of run of mine coal from open cut operations – a considerable leap from the previous 20Mtpa ROM of permitted open cut mining.
The total 36Mtpa ROM approval for the Mt Arthur mining complex allows 4Mtpa ROM to be produced from Mt Arthur Underground, with this project previously approved to produce up to 8Mtpa.
The consolidation project approval extends mining until 2022 with additional resources of about 100Mt thrown into the mix.
The ramped-up Mt Arthur complex, near Muswellbrook, is expected to export up to 27Mtpa of product coal by rail and requires a new coal loader plus upgrades of existing infrastructure.
BHP previously indicated that saleable thermal coal production would lift from 11.5Mtpa to 15Mtpa in the first half of 2011.
BHP expects the consolidation project to create 720 new operational jobs at the complex and a further 2000 direct and indirect jobs across the state.
The peak construction workforce is expected to be 240 while the total peak employment at the complex is estimated to hit 2600.
The project’s approval was held up this year by the state planning department’s additional air quality and environmental requirements.
Mt Arthur Underground
The previous plan to produce 8Mtpa ROM from the longwall project was expected to cost $300 million, but capital expenditure costs will be lower for a smaller 4Mtpa operation.
The Mt Arthur Underground project will target five seams, while previous work identified a resource capable of supporting a mine life of 21 years.
Underground development started back in 2007 to help provide extra geotechnical information with help from contractor LD Operations while state government approval to mine 8Mtpa was received back in December 2008.