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Rio Tinto sticks with open-cut operation for now

Plan to move Bulga village for mine considered

RIO Tinto has rejected a push by Bulga residents to have mining go underground at the giant Mount Thorley Warkworth open-cut complex.

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association vice-president John Krey said on Friday that while the organisation would prefer no mining on its members’ doorsteps, it would ‘‘fully support’’ any application by Rio Tinto to go underground at the mine.

A Warkworth environmental impact statement says the mine’s South Pit has been left open as a ‘‘potential future access point’’ for underground mining, but the only option it will consider at present is to remain with the open cut.

Mr Krey said the progress association proposed going underground in 2010, and the issue was raised at a Mount Thorley Warkworth Planning Assessment Commission meeting in November 2011.

Back then, Rio said less than 20per cent of the potential coal could be reached by underground mining because the seams were either too shallow, too thin, or too close to other seams.

On Sunday, a Rio spokesman said underground mining was ‘‘not a realistic option’’ to replace the existing open-cut operation and its workforce of 1300 people.

“Underground mining at Mount Thorley Warkworth would require extensive technical studies to determine whether it was feasible, followed by the uncertainty of gaining significant capital investment following a lengthy approval process,’’ the spokesperson said.

An environmental impact statement for the Warkworth mine says ‘‘potential underground mining is in its early stages of exploration drilling and resource definition with feasibility studies yet to be undertaken’’.

An underground mine would need ‘‘a design capable of being realised in the short term’’, which was not likely given ‘‘current market conditions and competition for capital investment in the mining sector’’.

‘‘Not withstanding this, the proposal recognises the future for underground mining at Mount Thorley Warkworth with South Pit left open as a potential future access point,’’ the environmental statement says.

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