Rio Tinto Coal Australia’s Blair Athol mine, near Clermont in Central Queensland, will finish mining operations this year after almost 30 years of production.

Clermont Region General Manager of Operations David Pretorius said the mine has been progressively scaling back production in a transition toward closure since 2010. “After close to three decades, Blair Athol’s coal seams are largely mined out and the time has come to finish production,” he said. “Coal mining has a long and proud history at Blair Athol, dating back to the late 1800s when coal was first discovered in this area. At its peak, the Blair Athol mine was Australia’s largest exporter of thermal coal, blessed with uniquely thick coal seams.

“Since 2005, Rio Tinto had planned to close the mine at the end of this year and consulted with its community consultative committee and workforce,” said Pretorius. “However, as coal prices rose in recent times we looked to extend the life of the mine by mining a poorer quality coal and harder to reach seam for a few more years. Unfortunately, the recent significant drop in thermal coal prices, and other factors such as rising costs and the foreign exchange rate mean this is no longer a feasible option and we will keep to the original plan to finish production in 2012.

“The final day of production at Blair Athol mine will depend on the progress of mining operations over coming months, but we expect it will be before December,” said Pretorius.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia has consulted with workers over several years about their futures after mining stops at Blair Athol mine. There are currently around 170 employees and contractors working at the operation. There will be around 30 roles after production finishes at the site. These will include work in the coal handling and preparation plant and rail load-out facilities, which will continue to be used for coal from the nearby Clermont mine, as well as care and maintenance work in the lead up to a rehabilitation program.

“We have been planning for the eventual closure of Blair Athol mine for many years, as we know it will be a significant adjustment for our workers, their families and the local community,” said Pretorius. “Rio Tinto is committed to providing support for employees and will continue to contribute to the strength of the local community through its nearby Clermont mine and ongoing investment in a wide range of partnerships.

“A program called My Future Plan has given employees a chance to discuss their preferred options with their leaders and obtain assistance with seeking other employment. The majority of employees have expressed interest in taking redundancy and we will try to accommodate other preferences such as redeployment where possible,” said Pretorius. “We have also started holding information sessions to support family members of Blair Athol employees through the closure process and will run similar sessions with the local community.”

Planning for a rehabilitation program for the Blair Athol site is underway and further details of this program, including the final landform and use, will be determined in consultation with the Queensland Government over the coming months.

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