Min­ing in Col­lie

Sur­rounded by an abun­dance of na­tional parks, forests and man­made wa­ter­ways, WA’s only coal min­ing town, Col­lie, has a long his­tory, and con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate a large pro­por­tion of WA’s en­ergy needs.

The Australian Mining Review - - NEWS - JES­SICA CUM­MINS

LIKE many min­ing towns, Col­lie has had its fair share of booms and busts dat­ing back to the first de­vel­op­ment of its coal fields in the late 1800s.

Shire of Col­lie chief ex­ec­u­tive David Blur­ton said be­fore the com­mod­ity was dis­cov­ered in Col­lie, the State was re­ly­ing heav­ily on im­ported coal, and the Gov­ern­ment of­fered in­cen­tives for the dis­cov­ery of a lo­cal en­ergy source.

“The pe­riod be­tween 1930 and 1960 in par­tic­u­lar was a time of great pros­per­ity and growth for Col­lie [un­til] a sig­nif­i­cant coal min­ing op­er­a­tion in Amal­ga­mated Col­lieries closed its doors un­ex­pect­edly,” Mr Blur­ton said.

“This led to a 41 per cent de­crease in the coal min­ing labour force, which saw many fam­i­lies leave town [caus­ing] much eco­nomic, psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional stress.”

While many work­ers were re­de­ployed on gov­ern­ment projects, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of Muja Power Sta­tion in 1962 to lessen the im­pact on the lo­cal econ­omy, Col­lie ex­pe­ri­enced a pe­riod of stag­na­tion.

“Over the next 10 years many houses and shops re­mained empty.

“In 1983 the sign­ing of a 20-year con­tract by Premier Coal to sup­ply 26 mil­lion tonnes of coal to Western Power un­til 2003 pro­vided se­cu­rity to their work­force of 800 and the com­mu­nity.”

The 1990s were marked by ex­treme pres­sure on com­pa­nies to re­duce ex­penses, which led to the de­ci­sion by Premier Coal to “com­pletely close un­der­ground coal min­ing in 1994.”

“The shift from un­der­ground min­ing to open cut re­quired the use of larger ma­chines and was less labour in­ten­sive, which re­sulted in job losses of 239 em­ploy­ees at the Premier op­er­a­tion,” he said.

While pe­ri­ods of un­cer­tainty had led to busi­nesses clos­ing down and a de­crease in de­mand, Mr Blur­ton said boom pe­ri­ods on the back of con­struc­tion projects had at­tracted more res­i­dents to the re­gion.

To­day, min­ing com­pa­nies such as Premier Coal and Grif­fin Coal, played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the town.

Mr Blur­ton said in ad­di­tion to coal min­ing and power gen­er­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, Col­lie also hosted the Wors­ley Alu­mina re­fin­ery, which was the largest sin­gle em­ployer in the shire.

“The re­fin­ery un­der­went a $US2.2 bil­lion ex­pan­sion project in 2008 and this project, cou­pled with the con­struc­tion of the Blue­wa­ter’s Pow­erS­ta­tion in 2009 was a sig­nif­i­cant boom era on the back of these con­struc­tion projects,” Mr Blur­ton said.

“This saw house prices in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly [as well as its] pop­u­la­tion - how­ever the pop­u­la­tion has since re­turned to pre-boom lev­els.”

Re­gional Chal­lenges

Fast for­ward to present day and Col­lie still had its ups and downs.

“Un­like the east­ern se­aboard where coal is ex­ported, Col­lie coal is con­sumed by the lo­cal mar­ket in WA and [is] the only coal min­ing com­mu­nity in the State,” Mr Blur­ton said.

In April this year, The West Aus­tralian re­ported on the strug­gling prof­itabil­ity of both Premier Coal and Grif­fin Coal un­der State con­tracts.

Col­lie-Pre­ston MLA Mick Mur­ray said Syn­ergy pro­duced “quite a large lump of Western Aus­tralia’s power” which was sup­plied by Premier Coal.

“But that’s where the ner­vous­ness starts be­cause there are con­tracts due and we don’t know what the tar­gets are go­ing to be both fed­er­ally or by State,” Mr Mur­ray said.

“There is some ner­vous­ness – there are about 750 di­rect jobs in coal min­ing and about 400 in power gen­er­a­tion and un­der that is con­trac­tors that do the work.”

De­spite chat­ter around con­tracts, Premier Coal was charg­ing ahead with new devel­op­ments at the Premier mine, in­clud­ing a com­plete ma­chine re­build of some of its ma­jor min­ing equip­ment in house.

“[We are] util­is­ing our own work­force and work­shop fa­cil­i­ties - so far we have suc­cess­fully over­hauled trucks, doz­ers and graders, which has proven to be ex­tremely suc­cess­ful,” Premier Coal in­vestor re­la­tions and cor­po­rate af­fairs gen­eral man­ager James Rickards said.

“As part of our com­mit­ment to en­sure re­li­a­bil­ity of sup­ply of coal to our cus­tomers we are [also] sched­uled to take de­liv­ery of a new Lieb­herr 996 ex­ca­va­tor in March 2019 and a Lieb­herr 9400 in 2020.”

Mr Rickards said the com­pany had im­ple­mented var­i­ous fleet and shift ef­fi­cien­cies to im­prove pro­duc­tion and crew oper­a­tions, while con­tin­u­ing to con­sider new min­ing ar­eas given on­go­ing mar­ket chal­lenges.

Mr Mur­ray said the gov­ern­ment, how­ever, was work­ing on a ‘ tran­si­tional’ plan for when coal would even­tu­ally be re­placed by other en­ergy sources.

“The plan is still be­ing worked on as to where, how long and how much this would cost – we are still wait­ing on some di­rec­tion for­ward, which makes it very dif­fi­cult.”

Mr Blur­ton said the Shire had long called on the State gov­ern­ment to pro­vide di­rec­tion and a time­line on the chang­ing en­ergy mix in WA.

“This di­rec­tion is crit­i­cal to the town’s fu­ture given the cur­rent reliance on coal min­ing and coal-fired power as our foun­da­tion in­dus­tries,” Mr Blur­ton said.

How­ever, Mr Blur­ton said the shire ex­pected coal to con­tinue to be an im­por­tant part of the State’s en­ergy mix for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

“Dur­ing this time, it is im­por­tant for us to be­gin tran­si­tion­ing our econ­omy and sup­port the growth of al­ter­na­tive in­dus­tries to en­sure the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of our town,” he said.

Mr Mur­ray said pri­vate con­tracts such as Blue Wa­ters and Grif­fin Coal still had some years left on their agree­ments.

“It’s not like the gov­ern­ment can in­ter­fere,” Mr Mur­ray said.

“Peo­ple that think Col­lie is go­ing to be fin­ished within a cou­ple of years are far off their mark, well and truly off the mark.

“I do see Col­lie has a fu­ture and a good one, it’s just a mat­ter of work­ing on bring­ing other in­dus­tries into the town to make sure that con­tin­ues.”

Mr Mur­ray said if it had not been for coal fired power sta­tions, the State would have been in a worse sit­u­a­tion than it was after the Varanus Is­land gas plant ex­plo­sion in 2008.

The gas pipe­line from the is­land to the Pilbara ex­ploded in June 2008 and sub­se­quently cut WA’s do­mes­tic gas sup­ply by about a third for more than a month.

“The in­ci­dent cost the State around $2 bil­lion but it would have been dou­ble that if we didn’t have coal in place,” he said.

“There are some se­cu­rity mea­sures that have to be an­swered to by the gov­ern­ment at the same time.”

New Hori­zons

In recog­ni­tion of Aus­tralia’s evolv­ing en­ergy mix, Mr Blur­ton said the shire was in the mid­dle of form­ing an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan for the town to min­imise the im­pact of eco­nomic changes.

“We are work­ing hard to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of new non-tra­di­tional in­dus­tries in Col­lie such as tourism, in­ten­sive agri­cul­ture and al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sup­ply in­dus­tries as well as work­ing with the state to ex­plore al­ter­na­tive uses for coal,” Mr Blur­ton said.

Mr Blur­ton said the town was pre­pared for in­dus­trial ex­pan­sion with the de­vel­op­ment of the Shotts and Coolan­gatta in­dus­trial parks and its ex­pand­ing light in­dus­trial area.

“These strate­gic land parcels po­si­tion us well to cap­i­talise on any fu­ture min­ing ex­pan­sion and po­si­tions to at­tract al­ter­na­tive heavy in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

LandCorp had been de­vel­op­ing the Shotts In­dus­trial Park, 7.5km east of Col­lie, strate­gi­cally be­tween three ma­jor power sta­tions and as­so­ci­ated coal mines.

The de­vel­op­ment was set to at­tract large-scale in­dus­tries, which would add value to Col­lie’s ex­ist­ing en­ergy and coal pro­duc­tion.

“We have ac­cessed an abun­dance of wa­ter which is set aside for in­dus­trial use, [we have] ac­cess to a rail net­work, and we are in prox­im­ity to the Port of Bun­bury, so Col­lie is well po­si­tioned to cap­i­talise on the next wave of in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment.”

In Au­gust 2018, Perth-based com­put­ing com­pany DC Two also an­nounced plans to build a be­hind-the-grid-data cen­tre in part­ner­ship with en­ergy sup­plier Hadouken.

DC Two sub­sidiary D Coin co-founder and gen­eral man­ager Michael White­horn said un­less new pro­cesses could be found to re­duce CO2 emis­sions from coal, Col­lie as a town “might dis­ap­pear” with the aban­don­ment of lo­cal power gen­er­a­tion.

“Our propo­si­tion is to de­velop job op­por­tu­ni­ties around ‘new to’ Col­lie in­dus­tries, build­ing on a back­bone of ex­pand­ing lo­cal re­new­able ca­pac­i­ties,” Mr White­horn said.

The data cen­tre was planned to sit along­side a $16 mil­lion, 20MW so­lar farm in Col­lie, which ob­tained plan­ning per­mis­sion in April.

“It would be the first of its kind in Aus­tralia and in­volves the de­vel­op­ment of a data-pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity with a fo­cus on crypto cur­rency min­ing and data stor­age, which is en­ergy in­ten­sive,” Mr Blur­ton said.

“The project has made head­lines in­ter­na­tion­ally and [will pro­vide] the town with a new in­dus­try.

“It’s a good ex­am­ple of an al­ter­na­tive in­dus­try, which will help di­ver­sify our econ­omy.”


MP Mick Mur­ray at Premier Coal min­ing oper­a­tions in Col­lie.

Image: John By­land.

“Peo­ple that think that Col­lie is go­ing to be fin­ished within a cou­ple of years are far off their mark, well and truly off the mark.”

“Our propo­si­tion is to de­velop job op­por­tu­ni­ties around ‘new to’ Col­lie in­dus­tries, build­ing on a back­bone of ex­pand­ing lo­cal re­new­able ca­pac­i­ties.” The Premier Coal mine in Col­lie.

Image: John By­land.

Premier Coal is Western Aus­tralia’s largest coal pro­ducer, min­ing about 4 mil­lion tonnes a year.

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