The Maules Creek Coal Mine is an open cut operation located in the northwest slopes and plains of New South Wales, between the towns of Gunnedah and Narrabri. Mining operations commenced in 2014.
Following concerns raised by the community regarding dust and particulate emissions from the mine, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) together with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DP&E) commissioned Katestone Environmental Pty Ltd to examine dust control measures at the mine and provide advice on whether these meet international best practice standards.
To examine the dust control measures used by the mine, Katestone personnel inspected the mine site, reviewed and analysed the mine’s operational records and interviewed a number of residents living close to the mine.
The Approved Methods for Modelling and Assessment of Air Pollutants in New South Wales (DEC, 2005) and the findings of the report ‘NSW Coal Mining Benchmarking Study: International Best Practice Measures to Prevent and/or Minimise Emissions of Particulate Matter from Coal Mining’ (June 2011) were used as a benchmark for best practice measures used by the mine.
Along with examining if dust control measures met best practice, Katestone evaluated dust control measures to ensure they complied with the conditions outlined in the DP&E’s project approval and EPA’s Environment Protection Licence.
The study also considered site specific factors that influence dust generation and used operational records to determine if dust control measures are used consistently.
Katestone found that wheel generated dust associated with haulage of materials is the most significant source of emissions of dust. Other key sources include wind erosion, truck loading and dumping, and dozer use.
The following key findings relate to application of best practice at the Maules Creek Coal Mine:
- Control and management of dust from blasting and drilling is generally consistent with best practice. However, Whitehaven should incorporate consideration of blast size and dust impact potential into its decision to conduct or delay blasts.
- Control and management of dust from bulldozing is generally consistent with best practice.
- Control and management of dust associated with loading trucks with overburden and coal and trucks dumping overburden and coal includes some best practice measures. However, additional controls would seem to be feasible such as water application at the ROM pad to reduce emissions from dumping trucks.
- Control and management of dust associated with haulage includes some best practice measures. Minor additional improvements in dust emissions from this activity could contribute to an important overall reduction in dust emissions. At the time of Katestone’s examination of the site, Whitehaven were applying dust suppressant to the ROM Ramp from December to March. The remainder of the coal and overburden haul routes were subjected to watering alone. Katestone found that Whitehaven should consider extending the use of suppressant to all site haul routes to further minimise dust emissions.
- Control and management of dust associated with stockpiles, cleared areas, conveyors, transfers, stacking, reclaiming and train loading is generally in accordance with best practice.
- Control of dust emissions from rail wagons is not consistent with best practice. While improving this aspect of the mine’s operations will not provide a material benefit for the community living to the north of the mine, some benefits would be achieved for residents along the rail network. It has been demonstrated that dust emissions from coal wagons can be effectively controlled by the application of water in some instances, or chemical suppressant in others.
The EPA and DP&E have carefully reviewed and considered the findings and recommendations of the study. Both agencies have worked with Whitehaven Coal to identify and implement improvements that can be made to dust control measures to address the findings of the report.
Whitehaven Coal have committed to the following measures:
- To further investigate additional controls to minimise dust from the loading and dumping of overburden and coal at the premises. The investigation will involve researching activities and controls in place at mines of similar size to identify any additional feasible and reasonable measures that are suitable to be implemented at Maules Creek Coal Mine.
- To continue using chemical dust suppressant in conjunction with water carts to control and minimise dust from haul roads.
The EPA will monitor the Whitehaven Coal’s progress on the implementation of the above actions to ensure these are delivered and will continue to monitor the control of dust at the mine.