Australian Coal Mine Continues Growth

Australian Coal Mine Continues Growth

Curragh Mine, located in Queensland, Australia, has been in operation since 1983. An open cut mine with solid reserves, Curragh mine had been producing a respectable two and a half million tonnes of export coal annually. Purchased by Wesfarmers in 2000, and most recently led by Executive General Manager, Rod Bridges since 2007, Curragh mine’s production has increased to its current level of approximately seven million export tonnes per year. The process of expansion continues even now and Curragh mine plans to be producing 8.5 million export tonnes by the fourth quarter of 2011.


According to its website, Wesfarmers began as a farmer’s cooperative in Western Australia, and has since “grown into one of Australia’s largest listed companies and employers. Its diverse business operations cover supermarkets, department stores, home improvement and office supplies; coal mining; insurance; chemical, energy and fertilisers; and industrial and safety products.” Wesfarmers employs more than 210,000 people and focuses its efforts to “provide a satisfactory return” to its 450,000 share holders.

To that end Wesfarmers brought Executive General Manager Rod Bridges, and his wealth of experience, to the helm of Curragh’s operations in 2007. Bridges came to Curragh after serving as Executive General Manager at Kaltim Prima Coal mine in Indonesia, an operation which, according to Bridges, exported thirty-six million tonnes of steaming coal annually into the Asian market. That experience has served Bridges well in Queensland, as it gave him intimate knowledge of what is necessary to handle the planned increase in production.


Curragh employs the latest technologies and mining science to remove and process their coal as efficiently as possible. For example, when it comes to removing overburden, they possess one of the largest electric draglines on the planet: a Marion 8750 Super, with a 114m3 bucket. This monster works alongside four more electric draglines which allow them to adeptly expose the coal for mining.

From mid 2011 Curragh will be using a new Bucyrus 495HR electric shovel which will be the first of its kind to be used in Australia. It will operate in conjunction with a fleet of Liebherr 282C ultraclass trucks each with a 360 tonne capacity which will be the first of their kind to be used in Queensland.

Curragh utilizes an over land conveyor to transport coal from the Curragh North mine to their main Curragh mining operation. In order to transport the coal to their main facility, Curragh commissioned the ‘World’s Longest Single Flight Conventional Conveyor.’ The conveyor is more than 20 kilometers long and can carry the coal at speeds up to 27km/hr. Curragh has won several awards for the conveyor which according to their website “has achieved significant reductions in power draw as well as capital and operating cost savings of about 40 per cent.”


In order to add an additional 1.5 million tonnes of production from late 2011, Curragh Mine is actively augmenting its infrastructure. Curragh is currently building a new coal handling wash plant, or coal preparation plant, which will greatly increase their capacity. This plant, along with other mine infrastructure, represents an investment of $286 million in the future of the mine. In addition to this Curragh is looking to construct additional product stockpile areas which will enable the operation to handle the increased volume of coal coming into its wash plants and load-out facilities. While providing for the long term growth of the mine, these construction projects also represent a boon to the local community, creating approximately 550 construction jobs locally.

Further development is planned to improve the railways from Curragh to the port of Gladstone as well as expanding the port facilities themselves to accommodate the increased volumes of export coal.


In an ever increasingly competitive world, Curragh has been able to stay nimble and profitable through close management of its operation costs. Teaming up with Partners in Performance, an organization that specializes in helping large operations improve their bottom-lines through efficiency measures, Curragh was able to “take $90 million out of our cost base over the last 12 months,” according to Bridges. Bridges acknowledged that it was “very hard work,” yet such a substantial savings was well worth the effort. Curragh achieved these gains through such improvements as “outsourcing a northern pit, matching up our truck and shovel fleets, increasing the bucket size on our excavators,” as well as approaching their suppliers for assistance. Partners in Performance also introduced Curragh to Modular Mining, a software and hardware system that assists the mine with managing their day to day costs. Says Bridges, “Now our supervisors, superintendents and senior managers know exactly what their day to day production is and what their day to day costs are.”

Besides mining more coal, Curragh’s continuous improvement programme is focused on “getting all the coal we expose and delivering the cleanest coal possible to our coal preparation plants.” Says Bridges, “This makes a tremendous difference to the yield of those plants.” Furthermore, Curragh’s expansion daily makes them more able to take advantage of their growing economies of scale.


When pressed to identify Curragh’s best investment so far, Bridges unequivocally identified the men and women who work at the mine. “At Wesfarmers we really do focus on the people. We are very careful when we select new people, how we train them and the ongoing training we provide them.” Communication skills are just as important as technical skills. Especially valued are people who are motivated, self-disciplined, have great attitudes and are willing to learn. “If they have that,” says Bridges, “we can train them.”

Curragh also has a significant leadership programme for employees. “We’re actively focused on instilling high leadership standards in supervisors, superintendents, senior staff and managers across the business.” The priority is placed on empowering staff to make decisions for the betterment of the business. The company’s commercial training package teaches them how to do this. “They are able to make recommendations and taught how think and act in a commercial manner to affect the bottom-line,” continues Bridges.


Sustainability is a top priority for Curragh Mine. According to Curragh’s website, “rehabilitation of disturbed areas is taken very seriously.” Once the mining of a particular area is complete the original topsoil is replaced, and “the area is seeded with native trees and grasses.” Curragh also utilises a comprehensive recycling programme which has dramatically reduced waste at the facility and in 2009 Curragh’s general recycling improved by 45%. They are using more and more biofuels in their fleets and very carefully manage their electrical power usage. Bridges says, “We have done significant work to reduce our energy consumption. We make sure that we conserve energy wherever we can. For example, we have large external lighting systems around our industrial installations, now we have those on automatic timers so they turn off when not in use. When I came here three years ago, those lights were on 24 hours a day.” These measures have greatly reduced Curragh’s impact on the local environment.


During 2009 when many resource companies were struggling with the impact of the global financial crisis Wesfarmers Curragh continued to perform strongly. A 12 per cent increase in export sales during this period secured Curragh the Minerals and Energy category at the 47th Australian Export Awards. Mr Stewart Butel, the Managing Director of Wesfarmers Resources the owner of the Curragh mine, said strong export sales made it possible for us to continue full production throughout the global financial crisis at a time when other mines were forced to reduce production.


Curragh’s future seems to be a bright one. After successfully increasing its export coal production from two and a half million tonnes to approximately seven million the operation is on track to reach its goal of producing 8.5 million export tonnes from late next year. Efficiency measures and capital investment have secured the future of the mine through 2025. Executive General Manager, Rod Bridges says it this way, “We’ve got the reserves and we’re in the position to extract them. We’re a successful business, and we’re expanding it and moving forward. Furthermore, we’re supported by a helpful, cooperative and hardworking workforce.”

Curragh Mine
Stewart Butel