New Hope is in for the long coal haul

13 April 2016

This article was published in the Australian on 11 April, 2016 and written by Anne-Louise Brown.

It featured in a special report on Toowoomba. You can read the full report here.

At a time coal companies across Australia are winding back operations, New Hope Corp's New Acland mine in the Darling Downs is preparing to expand.

Plans are in development for Stage 3 of the mine, northwest of Oakey, and Queensland-based New Hope says it is "well-placed to see out the current downturn'' in coal prices.

New Hope managing director Shane Stephan says the results were remarkable during a challenging period.

"Our focus for the future remains on safe production and progressing state and federal government processes to further the approval of the next stage of the Acland mine," Stephan says.

"Market conditions for Australian coal producers are challenging at present. However, New Hope has efficient operations and is in a robust financial position, so we are well placed to see out the current downturn and take advantage of these conditions to grow the business for the future."

The New Acland open-cut mine has been an economic powerhouse in the Darling Downs and Queensland for more than a decade, injecting an estimate of more than $100m into the local community a year and $300m into the wider state economy. It employs 275 locals and 507 contractors and, with the mine set to expand, these numbers are projected to grow.

Stage 3, if approved, will see the mine's operations extend to 2029, providing a projected $530m for the southeast Queensland economy each year.

"The New Acland mine is New Hope's largest operation and remains profitable despite the current downturn," Stephan says.

"The expansion project will boost current employment to 435 local jobs for mining operations, plus another 260 jobs will be created during construction.

"Flow-on jobs and benefits will be substantial for local communities with indirect jobs expected to grow to more than 2850.

"New Hope is part of the local community, employing local people with no fly-in-fly-out workforce and contributing about $600,000 annually to community organisations."

Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise chief executive Dr Ben Lyons says "regional communities are driven by investment in development and ongoing projects which can reap major economic returns for their communities.

"Although agriculture, education and professional service sectors underpin the diverse nature of our economy, we have seen another prime example of resource-sector contribution in the New Acland mine at Oakey,'' he says.

"The resources sector, through gas and coal production, has led to the construction of long-awaited and vital infrastructure in the region, such as the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport and the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.

"These legacy projects from the sector are and will continue to bring economic returns to our local communities and businesses in the future."

New Hope is also intending the land it operates on to be rehabilitated for agricultural preservation. The Acland Pastoral Company was set up by New Hope in 2006 as a farming, grazing and land-management enterprise based at the New Acland mine.

It manages 10,000 hectares and runs up to 2800 head of cattle, with fodder and grain crops also produced. Conservation areas are managed, with native vegetation and grass species replanted. Mining operations use recycled water rather than water from aquifers.

Stephan says the innovative New Acland model shows that mining and agriculture can co- exist despite some residents' concerns.

"The area will be left with a sustainable, profitable agricultural enterprise, not just at the end of mine life — but as mining operations are carried out," he says.