The future of an underground coal mine west of Cessnock is in doubt after Yancoal announced more than 200 employees are to be stood down or re-deployed.
The Austar-run mine at Paxton is one of the state’s oldest coal mines and celebrated its centenary in 2016.
With a history of coal burst events, the mine will retain skeleton crews to maintain the mine in accordance with compliance requirements.
It is the same underground mine where two men, Philip Grant, 35, of Metford and 49-year-old Jamie Mitchell of Aberdare, were killed in 2014.
The Resources Regulator has prohibited all underground longwall production activities at the operation, which is managed by Yancoal on behalf of the Watagan Mining Company.
The operation’s shutdown comes after two prohibition notices were issued by the regulator following significant coal burst event, which involves the violent ejection of coal into the mine, and typically happen without warning.
The first notice came on February 2, 2018, when, according to the Resources Regulator, approximately 50 tonnes of coal was ejected from the face of the mine.
One worker was taken to hospital and treated for a cut to his hand.
The Resources Regulator issued a Section 195 notice to the mine, which prohibits cutting coal at the affected longwall.
The second notice came on May 17, 2018, after another significant coal burst event.
The mine recently gained permission to undertake controlled cutting under strict conditions to test additional ways to mitigate a coal burst risk, which included maintaining a 50-metre exclusion zone for workers.
The Resources Regulator said the notice would remain in place until a detailed geotechnical assessment was carried out and the mine operator could satisfy it that comprehensive risk controls could be implemented to protect workers.
Yancoal is currently seeking an external merits review in the Industrial Relations Commission.
Yancoal Australia chief executive officer Reinhold Schmidt said the company was working to move employees to its other mines in the region.
“We have worked to redeploy the majority of the Austar workforce to the Ashton, Abel and Moolarben underground mines in the interests of providing continued employment for our people.
“Until all legal avenues have been exhausted and we can re-enter the mine to move the longwall, we are unable to continue proposed longwall activity,” he said.