BHP Billiton is planning to build what would be the nation’s biggest underground coal mine near Gunnedah in the fertile Liverpool Plains region of northern New South Wales.
The miner has submitted documents to the Federal Environment Department revealing plans for its Caroona underground mine saying it could export 10 million tonnes per year of high quality thermal coal with production starting as early as 2021.
BHP said the mine, which is facing significant community opposition, would run for 30 years and employ up to 400 people operating it.
At peak construction, 600 workers would employed.
The documents kickstart the environmental approval process for the mine, which is yet to be approved by the company or governments.
Opposition to the mine has been around its impact on the region’s water.
BHP said the mine plan showed the mining would not affect the region’s agricultural activity.
“The preliminary environmental studies undertaken for the Gateway submission indicate that the proposed underground mine will not impact the alluvial irrigation aquifers essential for agricultural production in the area,” BHP’s NSW thermal coal asset president Peter Sharpe said.
The documents say construction of the first stage would take three years.
The company has previously said construction could start in 2018 but had given no indication of the size of the planned mine.