The future of Dartbrook underground mine subject of court ordered conciliation conference on July 6

The future of the Dartbrook underground coal mine near Aberdeen, is now the subject of a court ordered conciliation conference, to be held on site on July 6.

Placed in care and maintenance way back in 2006 by its then owners Anglo American plans to reopen the mine stalled when the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) handed down its determination in August 2019 that limited the number of years the mine could be operational to just three.

In their ruling the IPC said the mine can recommence operations using bord-and-pillar methods not the usual longwall methods and extract six million tonnes of coal until December 2022.

The mine's new owners Australian Pacific Coal in their Dartbrook Modification 7 proposal wanted to have the mine operating for a minimum seven years to 2027 and in November last year lodged an appeal against the IPC decision in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

Now the IPC and Australian Pacific Coal will attend a Court-ordered conciliation conference on July 6 at the Dartbrook site.

IPC public meeting on Dartbrook Modification 7 in Muswellbrook.

IPC public meeting on Dartbrook Modification 7 in Muswellbrook.

A spokesperson for the IPC said if the conciliation conference does not result in a negotiated outcome, the appeal will go to a full hearing by the Land and Environment Court.

In their latest Australian Stock Exchange announcement (April 28) Australian Pacific Coal (AQC) said the appeal seeks to have the decision amended, within the current NSW guidelines for coal mining projects, to permit restart of the mining operations and to provide a reasonable time frame for the mining to facilitate the necessary capital costs which will be incurred.

"The Board continues to consider whether, in addition to appealing against the Mod 7 determination, a further modification application (Mod 8) will be lodged to seek further flexibility in relation to the manner in which the Dartbrook Underground Coal Mine can be restarted and operated, " says AQC.

"In parallel with the Mod 7 appeal AQC continues to investigate options for a mining restart."

Anglo American sold the mine to Australian Pacific Coal in 2016 - a company with no previous mining experience.

In their reasons for ruling on the reopening the Independent Planning Commissioners said the bord and pillar methods were less intensive than the existing approved longwall methods and that the impacts that would occur can be mitigated by strict conditions.

However the Commissioners refused to extend the life of the mine for further five years until 2027 due to questions concerning the economic viability of the project.

The Commission stated there were inadequacies in the economic, social and environmental assessment for the project and their likely impacts.

Due to these failings the Commission remained unconvinced that the application to extend the approval to 2027 is in the public interest.

Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association has previously described the reopening of the underground mine as a Trojan horse for the development of an open cut mine on the site.

In their submission on the modification it stated "that AQC intend to proceed to open cut mining and that the re-commissioning of underground mining is a first step in the open cut direction."