In late 2014 the Flinders Power Management Team was executing business improvement plans to ensure continued electricity generation until 2028 and beyond. Six months later, in June 2015, the Board announced the closure of the Flinders Power South Australian business, including the Leigh Creek Coal Mine, the Northern and Playford Power Stations located at Port Augusta and the 250km railway line. The announcement was preceded by a brief period of internal planning. A date was soon set for ceasing coal mining operations, being November 2015.
The mine is unique in many ways. Located approximately 550km north of Adelaide the site has over 100 years of history and was formerly operated by the South Australian Government. Privatisation in 2000 saw the mine continue operation under Perpetual Leases from the South Australian Government. The leases included exemptions from multiple sections of the Mining Act 1971, obliging primary regulation under the Mines and Works Inspection Act 1920. The coal, being a low rank sub-bituminous brown coal, is prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion. The mine and company town Leigh Creek were the economic and cultural heartbeat of the community. Facilities at the mine were shared by the community and vice versa.
While many mines across Australia and the world enter periods of care and maintenance, few have been actively closed to the point of relinquishment (Bennett and Lacy, 2016). A swift decision to close, followed by a short mining operations shutdown period, presented significant technical and regulatory challenges for both the mine operator and for Regulators.
The subsequent joint risk mapping process employed by Flinders Power and South Australian Mining Regulators was a unique real-world example of collaborative mine closure planning and execution. Lessons learnt are valuable for all mines, production facilities and for Regulators, even for those who may wrongly assume that closure is many years away.
Williams, B and Querzoli, A, 2018. Risk management for minesite closure planning and execution – start now! Lessons from the closure of the Leigh Creek Coalfield, South Australia, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2018, pp 68–72 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).