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The Bulk Sample
As part of Bickham Coal Company’s (BCC) detailed and considered approach to investigating the viability of a coal mine in the Upper Hunter, a bulk sample of coal needed to be extracted and shipped to Asia (Bickham’s target market) where it could be tested.

An application to extract a 25,000 tonne bulk sample was lodged in 2003 with the former Department of Mineral Resources (now part of the Department of Primary Industries) to allow potential customers in South East Asia to conduct trial combustion burns of the coal. After its approval in January 2004, the sample was extracted during 2004 and early 2005.

A key element of the application was the removal of approximately 331,000 bcm of overburden. The overburden was used to rehabilitate an existing void left by previous mining of flint clay at the site.

The diagram below illustrates the area of the bulk sample.

The bulk sample extraction was a small project, disturbing less than two hectares of the property. Work was carried out only during daylight hours and equipment used was limited to an excavator/loader and trucks. The area of work is not visible from any public access point.

Environmental Assessment
A comprehensive Review of Environmental Factors (REF) for extraction of the bulk sample was placed on exhibition for comment in 2002 following an extensive consultation process, both with the community and relevant Government departments.
A number of concerns were raised during the REF exhibition, mainly related to the extraction of ground water and its use. After the exhibition period the, then, Minister for Mineral Resources requested that the company undertake further studies, which were carried out early in 2003 at South Bickham.
In addition, water quality monitoring of both ground and surface water (Pages River) commenced in mid 2002 to provide background data for the bulk sample proposal.
A comprehensive monitoring program was undertaken throughout the bulk sample recovery program, which included monitoring volumes of groundwater pumped, groundwater and surface water quality, water levels in the dewatering bores, piezometers and Pages River, and water quality monitoring of runoff collected in the sediment control structures; this program continues.
A water license was obtained to allow the extraction of up to 20 megalitres of water from two bores adjacent to during the excavation. Among other things the water was used for dust suppression and watering of the site.

Burning Mountain
Initially there was concern, from some, that the bulk sample may have adverse effects on Burning Mountain Nature Reserve. Reassurance was given, however, that this was not the case. Burning Mountain is more than six kilometers south-west of the bulk sample excavation and there have been at least six flint clay operations closer to Burning Mountain than the bulk sample site, with the nearest of these being within 1.5 km. Blasting was extensively used and the flint clay voids are larger than the sample excavation. No adverse effects on Burning Mountain were reported during the 20 plus years of active flint clay mining in the area.

Bickham Community Consultative Committee
A Community Consultative Committee was appointed in 2004, under the chairmanship of Warren Cook.
The Community Consultative Committee, formed as part of the approval conditions, was the voice of the community in addressing operational and environmental issues. The committee also had representatives of State and local government, in addition to the Bickham Coal Company.
The members were:

  • Nat Doonan, former Mayor and Councillor of Murrurundi Shire
  • Neville Moxon, Murrurundi newsagent
  • Jocelyn Roberts, Murrurundi resident and former school teacher
  • Lloyd Rossington, an irrigation farmer and consultant
  • Michael Satara, the closest adjoining landholder to the Bickham site.

The committee had its first meeting on site on 21 June 2004.
Downloadable PDF versions of the Meeting Minutes are < available here >

BCC supports and encourages involvement from the local community. During the bulk sample, ten locals were employed on the project, by both direct employment and via contractors. Around 14 people in total were employed over a period of six months. For more information < click here >.

Coal processing and transport
Coal was hauled from the bulk sample excavation to a temporary stockpile and reloaded onto on-highway coal trucks. From there the trucks followed the roads used by the flint clay operation to the New England Highway. Originally the coal trucks were to travel to the Dartbrook Coal Washery, however, due to unforeseen circumstances the location changed to Rix’s Creek Mine near Singleton. The coal was railed to Newcastle from the new location where it was shipped to Asia. Up to 18 truck movements per day took place on the route over a 10-12 week period.

Once complete, the bulk sample site was rehabilitated and the benefits are in the process of being realised. For example, overburden was used in full remediation work on the old flint clay void and the bulk sample void will provide for long term water storage if no further mining takes place at South Bickham.
Reshaping of the overburden emplacement and coal stockpile area is complete, while native grasses sown are slowly establishing on the areas under the protection of a cover crop. In the near future, native seed collection on the property will be sown on these areas.
In addition, implementation of a Rivercare Plan for the section of the Pages River through the property continues, with the physical removal of weeds from sections of the banks. The first steps were to re-fence those areas of the river where it was not possible to keep stock away from the water, then followed some planting of riparian zones.

Results of Environmental Monitoring
The following are results from the environmental monitoring that took place during the bulk sample excavation.

  • The ground water that was removed during the bulk sample excavation was far less than originally predicted. The amount extracted was less than 16 megalitres over the six-month duration of the excavation.
  • Ground water was from a hard rock aquifer only, and water was extracted under an industrial license for safety and environmental dust suppression.
  • The dust deposition gauge 3 closest to the nearest residence has shown a decrease in deposition levels since monitoring commenced indicating the bulk sample operation had no impact on air quality at the residence as recorded by the monitoring program.
  • Geological studies show structures were simpler than previously modeled. Any faults existed only as minor localised structures.
  • Water monitoring undertaken during the bulk sample process found that no significant changes in water quality were detected.
  • Post bulk sample, the water monitoring program showed no evidence of any water quality impact on the Pages River as a result of the dewatering, and no evidence of any direct hydraulic connection between groundwater and the Pages River.
Outline of Approval Process
Water Resource Assessment
Overview of Bulk Sample

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Bickham Coal Company PTY LTD
PO Box 470 Rutherford
NSW 2320
Phone: 02 4932 3200
fax: 02 4932 3266