September 27, 2017, by lzzeb

A visit to the Hunter Valley coal mining region

A blog by Professor Paul Nathanail

What does a professor of engineering geology do on his only free day during a 12 day trip to Australia? The School of Geography’s Paul Nathanail was faced with just such a ‘problem’ in Newcastle – the one in New South Wales. His choice? A drive up the Hunter river valley – not to visit the famous vineyards but rather to explore the Hunter valley coal basin ( and the series of massive opencast pits that extract coal to be transferred down the Hunter valley Coal Chain to the port at Newcastle (aka Port Waratah) and on to… mainly Japan, Korea and China.

Coal ( has been mined in the Hunter valley for over two hundred years, initially by convict miners sent to Australia from the UK. Professor Edgeworth David, known for his service as a military geologist in the First World War, considered exposures of the Newcastle Coal Measures to rank among the finest of their kind in the world.

Starting at the Singleton Museum and Information Centre, Paul acquired a largish scale map and planned a route that would take him past all the major mines in the area and also past the Liddell Power station. This 40+ year old coal (what else?) power station is in the news as its owners want to close it and replace it with more profitable renewable energy-generating capacity. The state government however is worried about securing electricity supplies nad is trying to persuade the owners to either sell or keep it going.

The mines are massive – some up to 10km long and several kilometres wide.  Even on a Sunday the mine car parks were full and production was going on. However from a distance, there is not much to disturb the visitor. The rolling landscape is easy on the eye. The roads are well maintained, some having been built by the mining companies to serve their pits. Settlements are few and far between.

The Hunter Valley coal mines are under threat – coal is seen as the sacrifice to be made if we are to meet the targets set in Paris. Unless of course the carbon dioxide can be captured for repurposing or underground storage.

A good day exploring an unique corner of Australia, and the world. Paul is looking forward to sharing his experiences with students taking his geological hazards and resources module this year (code F83175 since you ask).

What it’s all about (© CP Nathanail, reproduced with permission)


Coal handling infrastructure at the Port of Newcastle (© CP Nathanail, reproduced with permission)


CAUTION: road surface may be damaged by mine subsidence (the hidden hazard) (© CP Nathanail, reproduced with permission)


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