Metropolitan embraces new technology

PEABODY Energy has given final corporate approval for its $US70 million expansion of the Metropolitan longwall mine in New South Wales, with the company keen to invest in new technology.
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The Metropolitan longwall.

Blair Price

The expansion will lift the mine from 1.5 million tons per annum of chiefly coking coal exports to 2.5Mtpa in a couple of years.

Peabody originally targeted a bigger expansion but left out more than 8Mt of coal as an environmental pillar to get plan approval and ensure protection for the Waratah Rivulet and Eastern Tributary from the impact of subsidence.

Of the $15 million of spending slated for 2010, a Peabody spokesperson told ILN it would be used for several projects, with one including the construction of a paste plant as part of plans to emplace coal wash underground using mine backfill technology.

This approach will eliminate the need to truck waste offsite.

For other spending to modernise the 120-year-old mine, Peabody aims to put in another drift as workers currently access the mine via an elevator shaft for 300m, then by rail and by vehicle afterwards.

“We are looking at changing the way we go into the mine to cut time,” the spokesperson said.

Peabody is also open to upgrading its longwall equipment at Metropolitan.

“We’re taking advantage of the new technology. I was underground last week, there’s nothing wrong with the shearer or anything else that’s down there but we are always looking at making sure that we are using the right technology to increase our cost efficiencies,” the spokesperson said.

The company will also investigate abatement technologies at Metropolitan to meet its goals of lower and near-zero emissions.

"The Metropolitan mine expansion is one of a number of projects aimed at nearly doubling Peabody's Australian met coal and thermal export platform by 2014," Peabody Energy chairman and chief executive Gregory H Boyce said.

Peabody has multiple Australian expansion projects targeted at raising its metallurgical coal shipments to 12-15Mtpa by 2014 and increasing thermal coal export capacity to 15-17Mtpa.

The Metropolitan expansion, which finally gained approval from the New South Wales Department of Planning last year, will give the mine another 25 years.

It was the first project to be assessed by the Planning Assessment Commission. Peabody quelled fears of possible subsidence damage to waterways raised by environmental groups and at a public hearing in Wollongong in March last year.