THE Department of Planning and Environment has granted Whitehaven Coal approval to increase annual production from 8 million to 11 million tonnes and to install a 400 metre wide longwall face at the Narrabri mine in northern New South Wales. Whitehaven hopes the mine will remain one of Australia’s best and most efficient underground coal mines.

Narrabri is Whitehaven’s lowest cost operation with 2015 financial year costs of Aus$52 per tonne. It was Australia’s number one longwall operation in FY2015.

Key elements of the expansion include the purchase of additional longwall face shields, a new armoured face conveyor and drive motors, upgrades to the coal clearance systems and surface coal handling stockpile facilities.

Mining is taking place in longwall panel LW05 and the first 400 metre wide longwall panel being developed is LW07. It is expected to come into production in the first half of 2017. The 400 metre wide longwall face is expected to initially increase annual ROM coal production by an estimated 750,000 tonnes.

Whitehaven says the benefits of implementing an extended longwall face include less gate road and main road development, fewer longwall moves, increased productivity and improved safety.

Narrabri produced 7.7 million tonnes of ROM coal and 7.2 million tonnes of saleable coal in FY2015. ROM coal production for FY2016 is expected to be in the range of 6.6 to 6.8 million tonnes as two full longwall moves occur.

Whitehaven’s managing director and CEO Paul Flynn said, “Narrabri is one of the best and most efficient underground coal mines in Australia. The approval for increased production is another significant step towards achieving Whitehaven’s goal to become Australia’s leading independent coal company, and will drive Whitehaven’s costs of production further into the first quartile.

“Narrabri’s coal and Whitehaven’s high quality coal more broadly has an important role to play in the long term demand for energy in South East Asia. One of the most efficient power stations in the world, J-Power’s Isogo, uses Narrabri coal and the approval of increased production is good news for both our business and for highly efficient power stations like Isogo as they seek to reduce carbon emissions.”

The Narrabri Mining Lease was granted in January 2008 and development of the mine commenced in 2009. First development coal was produced in the September quarter of 2010 and longwall production commenced in October 2012. It employs approximately 360 people with most living in the local region.