Maules Creek moving forward

ASTON Resources’ Maules Creek project in New South Wales is targeting 13 million tonnes per annum of raw coal for at least 21 years of open cut mining, with development scheduled to start in the December quarter of 2011.

Blair Price

Owned by entrepreneur and former electrician Nathan Tinkler, Aston purchased the Maules Creek project from Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal and Allied for $480 million cash in November.

Aston is not only seeking to list in Australia, but also is talking to Chinese companies for investment according to various media reports.

In a clear sign the project is moving forward, Aston is seeking federal government environmental clearance for Maules Creek.

Project documentation was released by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts on Friday.

Located about 18 kilometres northeast of the town of Boggabri in the Gunnedah Basin, Aston’s standard open cut mining methods will use excavators and shovels along with a fleet of haul trucks, dozers and graders.

The operation workforce is estimated to be 400 permanent employees.

The mine will need a 13Mtpa coal handling and processing plant plus tailings drying areas.

To get the coal out, Aston also needs approval for the construction of a rail spur, rail loop and associated load-out facility to link up with the Werris Creek to Mungindi railway line.

Other construction includes a water pipeline and pumping station to access water from the Namoi River, plus a mine access road and a power transmission line plus related infrastructure.

The project targets several seams in the up to 800m thick Maules Creek Formation with the deepest being the Templemore seam which sits not far from the Boggabri Volcanics.

The coal reserves total about 240Mt while total resources are estimated to be 610Mt of thermal and semi-soft coking coal.

Underground mining was previously approved in the project area.

Consultancy Hansen Bailey noted some of the history of the project area in its preliminary environmental assessment for Maules Creek.

Back in 1989 a development consent approval was given, covering both open cut and underground mining methods for a 9Mtpa product coal operation.

While a development dam was constructed in 1995, no mining has yet taken place.

Hansen said the development consent approval (DA 85/1819) has no sunset clause and remains a valid planning approval.

Yet the getting environmental clearance will still be a challenge with several state forests in the project boundary which encompasses more than 4000 hectares.

Most of the infrastructure is planned to be on land owned by Aston, Idemitsu subsidiary Boggabri Coal or by the Crown.

Hansen said private landholders occupy land to the north and southeast of the project boundary.

Other private landholders identified are to the south or southwest of the project boundary and are at least 2km from the planned mining areas.

The federal application was made to meet the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Several threatened animal species were identified as possibly occurring in the project area, including the large-eared pie bat which also makes guest appearances in environmental assessments prepared for other coal projects.