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Coal mine closes following ‘ongoing safety’ concerns

Russell Vale coal mine
Russell Vale coal mine

A fossil fuel operation will shut down in response to occupational health woes.

Wollongong Resources recently decided to permanently close its Russell Vale coal mine.

The proponent contacted an estimated 145 employees to confirm a temporary pause on production would become permanent.

“Unfortunately despite the operation being compliant and safe to operate we cannot continue with regulatory uncertainty … due to ongoing regulatory risk and lack of support,” an internal email said according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“[We will] honour all our financial commitments including employee entitlements.”

The remarks came following the New South Wales Resources Regulator’s prohibition notice, more than eight months after underground employees accidentally exposed a borehole on 27 May 2023. Methane gas became released and ignited when rocky material came in contact with picks on the continuous miner’s cutting drum.

“A large flame spread from the left side across the width of the heading, over the continuous miner and towards the workers,” the investigation information release said.

“After the initial burst of flame a fire along the roof continued to burn. The continuous miner operator cut power to the continuous miner. He released the continuous miner’s water supply hose and applied water from it onto the flame. The flame was extinguished after about 30 seconds.”

The Minerals Council of Australia said it was very concerned about the mine’s looming closure and “damaging” impacts of multi-employer bargaining and industrial action on business.

The Mining and Energy Union (MEU) described the employer’s decision to shut down as a “sad day” for coal workers. MEU promised to advocate for more mines to keep operating.

“It is a sad day for the region because of the long history of coal mining at Russell Vale. It is always difficult to lose so many local jobs, with the flow-on effect to families and community,” south western district secretary Andy Davey said in a public statement.

“We will be seeking discussions with the New South Wales Government at the earliest opportunity to urge a solution for these coal mines that will keep them open. The Bulli and Wongawilli coal seams produce some of the world’s best metallurgical coal for steel-making. We would like to see these leases handed over to an operator who can run these mines efficiently and safely.”

Click here to read the full investigation information release.

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