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The importance of building relationships


[hr]In today’s challenging economic climate it’s important to ensure that relationships with contractors, suppliers and the community are ones that work for you, not against you writes Krystle Mules.[hr]

Sonoma-Mine-washplantIn the current market there aren’t many new coal projects moving forward and many of those that are seem to be associated with QCoal Group. A 25-year-old veteran of the Queensland coal industry, QCoal Group has made a name as the quiet achiever in Queensland exploration. Aside from discovering and developing world-class coal projects, QCoal Group is one of the few mining companies to be inducted into the Royal Flying Doctor’s Hall of Fame. The company’s focus on partnerships with communities, customers and suppliers as well as exploration success has borne fruit in recent years with QCoal Group able to boast an enviable pipeline of advanced projects and a strong history of community involvement.

Perhaps the jewel in the QCoal crown is exploration permit EPC 586, which has yielded production tenures for the Sonoma Mine, Cows Mine, the Jax coal project and the Drake coal project. QCoal believes that EPC 586 might just be the most productive coal exploration tenure in Queensland’s history.


QCoal’s projects and operations are primarily located around the Queensland town of Collinsville at the northern end of the Bowen Basin. In recent years QCoal has lodged a number of mining lease applications with the goal of exporting 20 million tonnes of coal in 2020. One of these is the Drake coal project, from which QCoal expects to mine first coal later this year.

Located 17 kilometres south of Collinsville, the Drake mine will produce up to 6 million tonnes of high quality coking and thermal coal per year once fully operational. In April of this year QCoal received the final statutory approvals from the Queensland and Australian governments for construction and operation of the proposed coal mine and a coal processing and rail loading facility on the Drake mine site. Final design and construction of the Drake processing facility is expected to take several years however QCoal Group expects to achieve early coal production this year by utilising the existing coal processing and rail loading infrastructure at the nearby Sonoma Mine.

QCoal currently produces around 4 million tonnes of hard coking and thermal coal products each year from its existing Sonoma and Cows Mines. Coal from QCoal’s mines is exported throughout Asia and used by the steelmaking, power and cement industries. Additional production of up to 6 million tonnes a year is expected once Drake is fully operational.

The company’s portfolio is set to increase further with the Byerwen coal project receiving approval from the Queensland Coordinator General earlier this year.

Production from the Byerwen project is expected to ultimately reach 10 million tonnes a year. The project now awaits further approvals from the Queensland and Australian governments to proceed.

“The Byerwen coal project is expected to create up to 350 construction jobs and up to 545 jobs once the mine is fully operational” Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney noted.

“The proponent has committed to offering employment to locals from nearby towns of Glenden and Collinsville and from across the wider region. The project will also have flowon benefits to nearby towns and businesses, creating even more jobs” he said.

What makes QCoal’s growth profile particularly noteworthy is that all of the projects currently being developed are a direct result of in-house exploration and discovery by QCoal. This organic growth underpins QCoal’s vision of exporting 20 million tonnes of coal per year by 2020.

Support of local businesses and people is key to QCoal’s operations. SAB Mining, who operates at QCoal’s Cows Mine, has been an important local QCoal partner for several years. In March SAB Mining and QCoal celebrated 1000 days injury free across SAB Mining’s operations on QCoal sites, a milestone that continues to grow.

Speaking of the achievement Mr Wallin said that he was proud of the partnership.

“Achieving 1000 days injury free is a credit to the team at SAB, in particular the company’s Director Scott Browne who leads by example and ensures that safety is at the forefront of operations,” Mr Wallin said.

Fostering strong relationships between contractors and mine owners can often be challenging, however QCoal’s partnerships, much like its operations, have been a natural progression.

The majority of the company’s coal exploration drilling contractors are locals who are expert at operating in the conditions in the region. QCoal’s focus on long-term partnerships is again in evidence as several drilling contractors have worked with QCoal for over 10 years.

“Greenfield exploration is a challenging task, the chance of finding economically viable coal resources, close to existing infrastructure is extremely limited. We have maintained a stable team of world-class coal exploration geologists and drillers over our history,” explained Mr Wallin.

“This has in no small way contributed to our success as an explorer,” he said.

The transition from explorer to developer began in 2007 when QCoal commenced operations at Sonoma Mine. This transition saw QCoal partner with Leighton Contractors to operate the mine, a relationship that is now in its seventh year.

“Many of our team members at Sonoma Mine have been part of the crew since we moved the first strip of overburden. As a result, our team has extensive knowledge and understanding of the geological landscape that we operate in,” Mr Wallin said.

Acknowledging the workforce’s abilities and working as one team is no doubt one of the reasons why QCoal has fostered strong relationships with its contractors.

QCoal’s General Manager Mining Operations, Danny McCarthy, said that QCoal’s contractors have to share operational goals, and be innovative in achieving these in order for the business to continue to move forward.

“The current market presents a lot of challenges for coal producers, but at the same time it also provides us with the opportunity to become more innovative and efficient in the way that we operate,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Support of local businesses and people is key to QCoal’s operations.”

“…contractors have to share operational goals, and be innovative in achieving these in order for the business to continue to move forward.”

“We are subject to a cyclical global environment, and our operations need to be able to adapt to remain sustainable throughout these cycles,” he said.

It has been through innovation, collaboration with its contractors, and the company’s ability to adapt that QCoal has been able to make significant savings to its operational costs. In the current global environment a focus on reducing operating cost and maintaining these reductions over the long term is key to survival.

“Recently we have implemented several innovations across our operations, small changes in the way that we do things that result in huge savings and make our business more sustainable,” Mr McCarthy said.

“One of the ways we have been able to achieve this has been through clear communication of our expectations, and providing our contractors with the support they need to be able to achieve these goals,” Mr McCarthy said.

“It’s about maintaining focus, and continually improving the way we do things. Everyone is accountable for their performance and deliverables,” he said.

An example of this is how QCoal have optimised the way they drill and blast. Over several months Mr McCarthy and the team at Sonoma Mine have focused on driving improved results by increasing the use of through seam blasting. These innovations have delivered reduced cost and also improved recoveries and reduced dilution. The final result – reduced operating costs and cleaner coal delivered to the washplant.

QCoal is a Queensland company that has parlayed their geological expertise and hard work into an enviable record of project development and coal production based on organic growth of exploration assets.

Safety, environment, and community are evidently fundamental values of QCoal. Through successful innovation, fostering strong relationships with its stakeholders, and ensuring that safety and environment are at the forefront of their operations, this explorer-come-developer continues to grow. Best of all, they continue to invest the proceeds of their successful innovation back into their community.

QCoal’s vision for the future involves more than just its operations. It’s also about people and relationships. A central tenet to QCoal’s long term focus is the QCoal Foundation and the various community projects it supports, including the QCoal Community Dental Service.

Data suggests that while there are over 90 oral health professionals for every 100,000 people in metropolitan Australia, there are only 37 oral health practitioners for every 100,000 people in rural Australia. The QCoal Foundation applied some innovative thinking and perseverance to develop the QCoal Community Dental Service as a solution to this oral health crisis.

The QCoal Community Dental Service is a mobile service operated by the Royal Flying Doctors that provides oral care to rural and remote communities throughout Queensland. This innovative service allows dental support to be provided from an 18 wheel semi-trailer which houses two state-of-the-art dental surgeries and the only mobile orthopantomograph (OPG) in the southern hemisphere. The OPG allows the dental team to take full images of the patients’ teeth and undertake more complex procedures to address acute dental conditions. The service is provided free of charge to patients. It literally is a one-stop dental shop.

Since the QCoal Community Dental Service commenced operation in 2013, the staff have treated more than 3,000 patients, visited 13 communities in its first year of service and travelled thousands of kilometres across Queensland.

QCoal’s Managing Director Christopher Wallin said:

“When I initially conceived the service my thoughts went back to my own experiences in regional Queensland and the lack of dental care that was available. Partnering with the Royal Flying Doctor Service allowed us to bring together the medical expertise of the RFDS with an innovative method for delivering the service so that even the most remote corners of Queensland can access state-of-the-art technology,” Mr Wallin said.

“Collinsville and Scottville have had a serious dentist shortage for many years, which has left far too many people without access to dental care,” he said.

The service has now had the opportunity to visit a number of communities regularly over the last 16 months. For those communities, such as Collinsville, who have had the benefit of regular visits, the incidents of acute treatments are beginning to fall and preventative procedures are becoming more common.

The QCoal Foundation was established to promote community-led initiatives in rural and remote Queensland with a focus on the key areas of health, liveability and education.

Echoing this approach the QCoal Group has provided over $900,000 in community grants to communities surrounding its existing operations. In addition the company has developed successful bursary programs for local high school students and traditional owners. One such recipient of the QCoal academic bursary was Kathy McDonald, a Collinsville local who recently graduated from James Cook University with a joint degree of Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science, and a Bachelor of Secondary Education. Reflecting upon her experience Ms McDonald said that the bursary provided her with the support she needed to pursue a university education.

“It was this support that allowed me to focus fully upon my studies without the financial stress of having to seek employment or rely upon my family for economic support. This bursary is a great opportunity for Collinsville students who wish to attend university,” Ms McDonald said.

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