Driverless truck study for BHP Billiton's Mt Arthur

BHP Billiton has defended a planned driverless truck study, and possible field trial, at its Mt Arthur Mine near Muswellbrook.

In a statement, the miner said it is about to commence the study using what it calls “autonomous haulage options” on site at Mt Arthur.

The study is expected to be completed by the end of June 2015, although BHP Billiton said no decision has been made with respect to either equipment or supplier.

Autonomous trucks operating at a mine.  Photo: Courtesy

Autonomous trucks operating at a mine. Photo: Courtesy

A BHP Billiton spokesperson said if a decision is made to go forward with the field trial, the autonomous truck project would be conducted by a dedicated project team in an area of the mine pit separate from main operations.

Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) use GPS technology to activate unmanned machinery in an open pit.

BHP Billiton has previously undertaken driverless truck trials at its Newman, Wheelara and Jimblebar iron ore mines in the Pilbara.

Rio Tinto first launched trials of driverless vehicles back in 2008 and Gina Rhinehart's Roy Hill Mine in the Pilbara has been purpose-built to accommodate driverless trucks.

In March this year, autonomous haulage was installed on 44 vehicles at Stanwell Corporation's Meandu Mine in Queensland, 25km from Kingaroy.

Close-up of BHP’s Mount Arthur coal mine by D. Sewell.

Close-up of BHP’s Mount Arthur coal mine by D. Sewell.

The CFMEU Northern District President, Peter Jordan, said he is very disappointed to hear the news of a driverless truck study for Mt Arthur.

“Nowhere ever has BHP Billiton made comment in its submissions to the NSW government to seek approval for expansions using driverless trucks.

“We say you do not do a driverless trial if you don’t intend to use those trucks and my question is, ‘Would the local community and the NSW government give BHP Billiton support and approval if they’d known the company had ideas about extracting some of its 32 million tonnes a year with driverless trucks?’  I don’t think so,” Mr Jordan said.”

Mr  Jordan said it’s just over a week since BHP Billiton announced on Melbourne Cup Day it would be getting rid of 150 jobs early next year.

According to the CFMEU, BHP Billiton’s Energy Coal NSW made a $174 million profit from Mt Arthur last financial year on a business asset worth more than $1 billion.

“So roughly they’ve made a 12.5 per cent profit at Mt Arthur last year and they turn around and cut 150 jobs and then straight after that they announce a driverless truck study when the local mining community is really struggling,” he said.

The Chronicle sought an interview with BHP Billiton’s NSW Energy Coal Asset President, Peter Sharpe, at short notice but we were advised he was unavailable.