MAC: Mines and Communities

China's smog threatens health of global coal projects

Published by MAC on 2013-11-18
Source: Reuters

Although the title of the Reuters article may not be fully descriptive, there is interesting and important detail in the article on possible constrictions on Chinese demand.

For instance, "[the] trend could derail a list of capital intensive coal projects from Australia to Indonesia and Mozambique."

An article in the Guardian emphasises the climate impact that only two of those coal mining projects in Australia (see Australia: International mobilization against Alpha Coal Project for recent articles).

China's smog threatens health of global coal projects

By Fayen Wong


15 November 2013

Shanghai - A choking smog across much of northern China threatens not just the health of local residents, but also of major coal projects globally that are still on the drawing board.

Beijing's plans to tackle pollution largely target coal-fired power, which will hit already slowing demand in the world's top importer of the fuel.

With China's coal demand the primary driver for a slew of mine investments over the past decade, this trend could derail a list of capital intensive coal projects from Australia to Indonesia and Mozambique.

Even without the environmental drive, new railways from mines to ports, falling investment in coal-fired generation and slowing power demand growth could see China's miners export some of their surplus output at competitive prices, hitting regional miners and the viability of new projects.

This is a major shift for a country that built an average of two coal-fired power plants every week in the last decade, went from net exporter in 2009 to the world's top importer just two years later, and burns nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.

"China is kicking its coal addiction," said Chen Yafei, vice-director at the China Coal Research Institute. "With slower economic growth and a big push towards gas and renewables, the golden decade for coal is over."

China's coal imports grew by 17 percent in the first 10 months of the year, down by nearly half from the 30 percent in 2012. With weak demand and high domestic output, inventories have been stuck at record high levels of 300 million tonnes most of this year.

China's massive jump in coal use - to 3.8 billion tonnes in 2012 from 2.5 billion tonnes in 2006 - drove prices of benchmark Asian thermal coal to average $121 a tonne in 2011, from less than $50 five years earlier.

But a raft of mine expansions during the boom years and weak demand caused by the global economic slowdown pushed prices to a 3-year low near $80 a tonne in October 2012, and they have stayed below $100 since.

Goldman Sachs expects seaborne coal trade to grow at just 1 percent until 2017, compared with 7 percent from 2007-12.

Projects in Peril

Miners bullish on demand are planning projects in areas that need significant infrastructure investment, such as the Galilee basin in Australia and the Sumatra region in Indonesia, but need high prices for the projects to make sense.

India's GVK Power & Infrastructure and Adani Enterprises are amongst those spending billions of dollars on new mines in the remote Galilee Basin.

State coal miner PT Bukit Asam's $2 billion coal railway project in Indonesia's South Sumatra is in doubt after India's Adani Group pulled out. Sumatra holds half of the country's resources but accounts for just 4 percent of output due to infrastructure constraints.

In Mozambique massive spending is needed on railways and ports to allow companies like Rio Tinto Ltd and Vale SA to make the most of potential reserves.

"The prospect of weaker demand growth and prices at near marginal production costs suggest that most thermal coal growth projects will struggle to earn a positive return for their owners," Goldman Sachs said in a report.

In Australia, about 40 out of 71 thermal coal mines surveyed by consultancy Wood Mackenzie had a cash cost of above $87 a tonne, while many of the proposed projects require a coal price of $120 a tonne to be viable, according to a report by Australia's Centre of Policy Development.

They could soon find themselves competing with Chinese coal, which is set to become more competitive as production costs fall.

Beijing is mulling proposals to scrap a 10-percent coal export tariff, a move which could easily see shipments jump four-fold to the annual quota of 38 million tonnes as Chinese coal becomes more competitive.

Plans by the railway ministry to double the volume of coal carried on dedicated railroads to 2.4 billion tonnes by 2015 will cut production costs, as will an ongoing mine consolidation.

Railway tariffs cost about 0.15 yuan per tonne for each kilometre, less than half the cost of around 0.35 yuan by truck, according to data from the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association.

More coal moving by rail will cut China's average production cost for thermal coal in the next 2-3 years by $10-$15 a tonne to $80-90, including value-added tax, according to brokerage CLSA.

Kicking the Coal Addiction

Power demand growth has fallen even further than economic growth as China has cut its energy use to about 0.7 times GDP growth, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the statistics bureau. That compares with an average multiplier of 1.1 times from 2005-2012

A surge in hydropower, nuclear and gas power has cut coal's share in power generation to 73 percent this year, from 78 percent in 2007, and this is set to move even lower.

Hydropower capacity is targeted to grow about 6 percent a year to reach 290 gigawatts by 2015, nuclear capacity to quadruple to 58 gigawatts by 2020 and gas-fired capacity to double to 56 gigawatts by 2015.

That compares with an expected 4 percent annual growth in thermal power capacity, half that seen between 2005 and 2011, said Liu Xiangdong, director of planning statistics of the China Electricity Council.

"The pollution question in China is huge so they will shift more towards gas for transportation and in power, no matter how high the price is," Ian Taylor, chief executive of Swiss trading house Vitol, told Reuters.

"The move will come largely at the cost of lower coal use. I personally worry that coal is going to be a problem as demand will come off much faster than we think."

The whopping climate change footprint of two Australian coalmining projects

The Guardian

7 November 2013

Over the past two years in the US, concerned citizens have been galvanised to march, rally, campaign and get arrested to block the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - a project to pump a reported 830,000 tonnes of one of the world's dirtiest fossil fuels from Canada to Texas.

The decision is still sitting with Barack Obama. Environment group the Natural Resources Defense Council says blocking the project will prevent as much as 24.3m tonnes of CO2-equivalent being released every year.

Over the 50-year life of the project, that's 1.2bn tonnes of greenhouse gases - a huge amount.

Yet if this level of emissions seems irresponsibly high - which it surely is in a carbon-constrained world trying to avert the risk of dangerous climate change - then how should we categorise 3.7bn tonnes of CO2-e, a figure more than triple that from the Keystone XL proposal?

That 3.7bn tonnes is the total emissions of CO2-e which could be emitted by just two linked mega coalmines in the Galilee basin in Queensland, Australia, which have both been approved for development.

The first mine is part of the Alpha coal project, approved in August 2012, and is owned by Indian energy conglomerate GVK, which bought the coal interests from Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart (who doesn't accept the science of human-caused climate change), in September 2011 as part of a $1.2bn deal.

In the months leading up to the sale, Rinehart flew three federal MPs to India on her private jet to attend the wedding of Mallika Reddy, granddaughter of GVK's founder GV Krishna Reddy.

Farmers and environmentalists have challenged the Alpha mine's approval in the Queensland land court, saying it will put vital underground water at risk and contribute to climate change. A decision isn't expected until early next year.

Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting company still retains a 19% stake in the second mine - known as Kevin's Corner - which is majority owned by GVK and was approved by the environment minister, Greg Hunt, this month. Another court challenge is being considered.

Climate change campaigners in Queensland are also trying to pressure rail company Aurizon to pull out of an as yet unsigned deal to develop the railway line needed to get the coal from the Galilee mines out to Abbot Point, where an expansion of the coalport is being planned.

So where do I get that 3.7bn tonne figure come from?

During the case in Queensland's land court, Hancock Coal appointed an expert to submit a report outlining the emissions from the Alpha coalmine - accounting for all the mining operations, releases of methane from the ground, use of explosives, transport, shipping and the eventual burning of the coal in power plants.

The report, which was submitted to the court and which I have seen, indicates the Alpha mine will emit an average of 61.9m tonnes of CO2-e every year for the 30-year life of the project.

If you add up the different categories of emissions detailed in the report, over the course of 30 years the project emits 1,857 Mt of CO2-e. This, the report detailed, was based on a total of 839.6 Mt of processed coal being produced and exported.

Now to the Kevin's Corner project, which it is proposed will use an extension of the rail line being proposed from the Alpha mine to get the coal to Abbot Point.

According to the environmental impact statement submitted by GVK, Kevin's Corner would emit an average of 2.02 Mt of CO2-e a year for a mine with a 30-year life.

That's a total for the life of the mine of 58.57 Mt of CO2-e. But this figure doesn't include the emissions from burning all that coal, because there's no requirement in the law to provide this, just as environmental approvals don't take into account the impact of projects on climate change.

But the report does say that the mine will produce an expected 856 Mt of coal ready for export, a similar amount to the Alpha mine.

For a conservative estimate of the emissions from burning the coal, we can take the emissions from transportation and burning coal from the Alpha mine as a proxy for the neighbouring Kevin's Corner project. This figure is 61 Mt CO2-e per year, or a total of 1,829 Mt over the 30 years. Add this to the other emissions from Kevin's Corner, and we get a grand total of 63 Mt of CO2-e per year or a total of 1,887 Mt Co2-e.

So, the total contribution of these two proposed coalmines in the Galilee basin will be 124 Mt CO2-e a year for 30 years or a whopping (I think this adjective is now allowed) 3,745 Mt Co2-e. That's 3.7bn tonnes of CO2-e.

Yet the vast bulk of those emissions will not make it to Australia's emissions accounts, because the coal will be exported and burned, mainly in India. The climate, however, couldn't give a monkey's where the emissions come from. The impact is still the same.

But what does this massive carbon footprint mean in context?

For one thing, these two mines' annual contribution would practically scrub out the savings from Australia's emissions reduction target.

By the year 2020, the Australian government has committed to cutting the country's emissions by 5% from the levels they were at in 2000. That means that emissions in 2020 will be 159 Mt lower than they would have been if there was no target.

A Greenpeace report has calculated that if the Alpha coal project was a country, its annual emissions would be higher than the likes of Austria, Columbia and Qatar.

The United Kingdom's carbon footprint gives us another comparison. The UK emitted 571.6 Mt of CO2-e last year. The total contribution of the two Galilee basin mines - if stopped - would be like making Britain carbon neutral for six years.

Yet these two megamines might just be the very large tip of a melting iceberg for the Galilee basin.

The Queensland government has today announced a strategy to speed up coalmining projects in the Galilee basin, giving "first movers" a discount on the royalties they will pay for mining the coal as well as making approvals easier.

The Indian-owned Adani Mining also has plans awaiting approval for a Galilee mine which, at its peak, would be producing 60 Mt of coal a year - double the capacity of the Alpha project.

Newly elected federal MP Clive Palmer's China First coal project also wants to mine about 40 Mt of coal a year from the Galilee basin, with the project now awaiting approval by environment minister Greg Hunt.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has outlined the world's carbon budget - that is, how much CO2 humans can emit from burning coal, oil and the like before global warming passes 2C. The IPCC took the period between 1860 and 1880 as the time when we started to eat away at the budget.

To give the world a 50:50 chance of staying below 2C, total human emissions of carbon dioxide would need to stay below 840 gigatonnes of carbon .

We have already "spent" 531 GtC of that budget, leaving 319 GtC left to go at.

In terms of carbon dioxide, 319 GtC is 1,171 gigatonnes of CO2 - or 1,171,000 Mt of carbon dioxide left in the budget.

If just these two Galilee basin coalmine projects go ahead, we get that down to 1,167,255 Mt of CO2

Country's biggest coal project gets approval


3 November 2013

The federal government has approved a massive coal mining project in central Queensland that will be the largest in the country.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the 37,380 hectare Kevin's Corner project on Friday.

The mine, to be operated by a joint India-Australia consortium, GVK-Hancock, is the first to be approved since the introduction of a new water trigger rule by the previous federal government.

Greenpeace claims Kevin's Corner will use more than nine billion litres of water a year and the Lock the Gate Alliance says more information on its impact on Galilee Basin groundwater is needed.

On Monday, 13 water science experts urged Mr Hunt to reject any mining proposals that would adversely impact water supplies.

They said mining and coal seam gas extraction could damage aquifers, rivers and water catchments.

Queensland Resources Council acting chief executive Greg Lane said Kevin's Corner stood to not only improve living standards for millions of people in India, but also open up one of the world's most exciting new coal provinces.

"GVK is to be congratulated for its commitment to this project in the toughest operating environment that the Queensland coal industry has faced this century," he said in a statement.

The news came as BHP Billiton announced it was scrapping plans for a new coal export terminal at Abbot Point in Queensland, the Guardian reported.

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