At the coalface: Coal is dead in the ground! Or is it?

At the coalface: Coal is dead in the ground! Or is it?

It is fighting to survive, but here’s the word from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres which shows the lengths coal is going to remain a global power source. But if there was one word from Paris that came out ahead of all others it was “COAL” (in capitals) and if we don’t stop digging it up and burning it, there is no way the world can attain the 2° rise in temperature, let alone the much more ambitious  1.5°. So coal, stay right where you are. Dead and buried! Read more

Adani’s Galilee Basin mine unlikely to go ahead, says International Energy Agency

By ABC national environment reporter Sara Phillips (18 December 2015):

Alpha Coal project in Galilee Basin in central Queensland

The latest Global Coal Outlook from the world’s peak energy agency says mining projects worth nearly $40 billion in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are unlikely to go ahead.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) forecast for the coal industry predicts demand for the fossil fuel will grow by less than 1 per cent a year for the next five years.

The fall-off in demand is largely a result of a declining Chinese market, with air pollution and climate change regulations reducing development of coal-fired electricity.

China currently accounts for around half of the global demand for coal.

The Minerals Council of Australia says Chinese demand will decline, particularly for low-quality coal.

But it says Australia’s best coal exports are not likely to be affected.

“China’s coal use overall may flatten out, but demand for high quality coal for high-efficiency, low emissions plants is likely to grow,” the council’s chief executive Brendan Pearson said.

“We know that there is 420 gigawatts of new, high efficiency, low emissions coal-fired power generation planned or under construction in China.”

An oversupply of coal has led to rock-bottom prices, meaning the economics for new mines are not favourable.

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“Just at the moment there will be a pause in investment in new mines,” Mr Pearson said.

“We’re still hopeful about the Adani mine [in the Galilee Basin]“.

However the coal quality in the Galilee Basin is not premium. And IEA says it has doubts about the viability of the huge development planned for Queensland.

“The projects … are highly dependent on availability of financing and adequate infrastructure. Despite support from Queensland’s Government, there is also public opposition to the projects, and hence, the approval process is being challenged, with inevitable delays,” the report says.

“In conclusion, it is not likely that the above listed projects will be operational in 2020, if ever.”

Coal industry ‘in denial’ and ‘drowning in debt’

Tim Buckley, an industry analyst for international energy think tank IEEFA, says that sends an important signal.

“The IEA has made a very important statement, that new greenfield capacity is not needed.

“You’ve got demand declining. You’ve got oversupply in the industry. You’ve got zero or negative profit margin and you’ve got an industry drowning in debt.

“In all of that how does adding more investment in more capacity to flood the market help anyone?”

Mr Buckley said the coal industry was entering structural decline and was not being realistic about its future.

“The first step is acknowledging they have a problem. The industry says it’s all cyclical.

“That’s just illogical, irrational, not supported by the facts. Effectively it’s a coal industry in denial.”

Benjamin Sporton from the World Coal Association said he remained optimistic that the industry will recover.

He also pointed to Australia’s COAL21 fund which researches clean coal technology such as modern electricity plants and carbon capture and storage.

Capital flowing toward wind, solar, energy efficiency

In Australia, the industry has sunk more than $300 million into COAL21.

This investment has been more than matched by a $544 million contribution from government and other industry partners.

Over the same period, the coal industry has spent more than $4 billion in exploration for new coal reserves.

Mr Sporton said governments should be doing more to support the industry’s attempts to become cleaner.

“I think there is social value in investment in these technologies because it means we continue to get the benefits of affordable and reliable fuels like coal,” he said.

However Mr Buckley said carbon capture and storage is so far off widespread adoption, the IEA does not even factor it into its predictions for the future.

“The capital is just not going to be deployed in these technologies to make them viable,” he said.

“In contrast the capital is flowing at an ever faster rate towards wind, solar, battery storage, energy efficiency, and that is a permanent game changer in my view.”




Australia Conservation Foundation report (15 December 2015):

Land Court decision leaves Palaszczuk government with crucial coal test

With the conclusion of the Queensland Land Court case relating to Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine the Palaszczuk Government now faces a stark choice: protect the Great Barrier Reef or approve the biggest coal mine in Australia.

“Just days after the historic Paris climate agreement was signed by 196 nations the Queensland Government faces a crucial test,” said Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Basha Stasak.

“Today’s recommendation puts the ball back in the court of the Palaszczuk Government, which must now decide whether it will give the green light to a mine that will undo the climate pollution cuts of several nations.

“Research by Energy Resources Insights shows if the Carmichael mine goes ahead it will increase global climate pollution  by more than the combined planned emissions cuts of Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Mexico and Canada between 2012 and 2025,” she said.

In a separate case in the Federal Court ACF is challenging environment minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the Carmichael project.  ACF will argue the Minister did not consider whether the damage to the Great Barrier Reef resulting from burning the mine’s coal would be inconsistent with Australia’s obligation to protect the World Heritage site.

Last week in Paris the world-renowned coral reef biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg told the Australian government it could not open one of the world’s largest coal mines and continue to claim to be protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

“If it proceeds this would be the biggest coal mine ever dug in Australia,” Ms Stasak said.

“Australia’s Paris commitments and World Heritage responsibilities cannot be met if governments keep approving massive new coal mines – Adani’s Carmichael project simply must not proceed,” she said.


Kellingley colliery closure: ‘shabby end’ for a once mighty industry

The last deep coal mine in Britain closes today, drawing to an end a series of closures in an industry once known as King Coal

Terry Macalister Energy editor Guardian (18 December 2015):

When the last shift of underground miners emerges at Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire on Friday, it will bring down the final curtain on one of Britain’s most successful and enduring industries.

Coal has been dug out of the ground since pre-Roman times. It fuelled the Industrial Revolution and was still providing 40% of power for electricity generation as little as three years ago.

But deep mining and its workplace culture of hard graft, comradeship and danger has been killed off by a mixture of cheap imports, low-carbon energy alternatives and government indifference.

“Its a sad, sad day,” said Stuart Oliver, a veteran coal executive of 40 years. “It took around 30m years to create the geology that has produced coal and yet we have burned most of it off in a little less than 100 years.”

Dennis Skinner, who as MP for Bolsover has represented coal communities for more than 45 years and is himself a former miner, said the closure of Kellingley was a shabby end for an industry that had once been the lifeblood of the UK economy.

“We are still importing 40m tonnes of coal and have the capacity to operate 20 or 30 pits in this country while using coal cleanly with carbon capture,” said Skinner. “It is disgraceful to throw 450 miners out of work in this way before Christmas.”

Kellingley, the last of Britain’s deep mines, has not run out of coal seams to plunder, but has lost a final supply contract in the face of fierce competition with global prices at their lowest level since 2008 and forecast to slump a further 25% by 2020.

A small amount of British surface mining will continue, but Kellingley is the last in a series of closures, including Maltby in April, Hatfield in June and Thoresby in July.

A once-swaggering industry dubbed King Coal has finally lost its crown, ending a glorious reign that had its genesis in rocks of the Carboniferous age first mined using Bronze age flints.

Coal production increased dramatically with the development of steam engines in Victorian times and peak output was reached just before the first world war. In 1947, along with many other industries including steel and shipbuilding, coal was nationalised.

At that time the collieries were producing 187m tonnes from 958 deep mines and employed 718,000 workers. By 1965 output was 177m tonnes, but from a far smaller number of mines and with only half a million staff on the books of what was then called the National Coal Board (NCB).

Then decline set in, as the railways moved from coal to diesel and electric power. Competition from North Sea gas and then cheap imports put the UK industry into a steep downward spiral in the 1970s and 1980s, which helped trigger conflict between the NCB and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over pay restraint and pit closures.

A miners walkout in 1972, the first since the General Strike of 1926, led to electricity rationing and the three-day week. A second confrontation followed 24 months later.

But both of those strikes were dwarfed by the calamitous clash between miners and their employers – not to mention with police and ministers – 30 years ago, described by the BBC as “the most bitter industrial dispute in British history”.

A Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher, showed itself determined not to be humiliated as she perceived her predecessor, Ted Heath, had been in earlier confrontations with the NUM.

She found herself up against the most determined opponent in Arthur Scargill, the then president of the NUM, who accused the Tories of trying to destroy the union and the coal mining industry

A brutal victory was seen as pivotal in the transfer of wider power from unions to employers. It paved the way for coal privatisation in 1994 and helped build the reputation of Thatcher as an Iron Lady and union buster.

By 1995 the number of deep mines had sunk to just 16, employing barely 1,300 miners with the government happy to embark on a “dash for gas” using the newfound hydrocarbon wealth of the North Sea.

Mine workers had a lot to lose. Pit towns and villages were often completely dominated by the coal industry, with employers providing everything from houses to sports grounds and even milk deliveries.

These locations tended to be bastions of Labour party power – although the current transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is – like Skinner – a former miner.

The mainly white, working-class coal communities were long a magnet for film makers, artists and playwrights. Pride, a film depicting the real life story of how gay men and women supported the 1984 miners strike, won a Bafta at this year’s ceremony .

There has been a new and growing threat to coal over the last 20 years: action to counter global warming. Increasing evidence that the burning of carbon-heavy fuels was exacerbating climate change led to increasing calls for controls on coal use.

Despite evidence that carbon capture and storage (CCS) could successfully be deployed for a new “clean coal” future, a series of expensive prototypes have never won the public funding they require and had been promised.

George Osborne pulled the plug on a Shell-proposed CCS scheme using gas at Peterhead in his autumn statement while Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, promised to phase out all coal-burning power stations by 2025.

In the intervening years, Britain will now use production from a series of above-ground open-cast mines, and the low-cost imports it has been using from countries such as Russia and Poland where labour is cheap.

What will not be missed from the deep mines will be the ongoing dangers of rock falls or fires, although safety has dramatically improved since the dark days of 1913– when 439 men and boys were killed by an explosion at a Glamorgan site.

Redundancy terms were often relatively generous, but job prospects for ex-miners have never been great. The regeneration of former pit areas often depended on low-paid jobs in call centres or warehouses – such as the now-infamous Shirebrook facility in Derbyshire run by Sports Direct.

Lisa Nandy, the Wigan MP and shadow energy and climate change secretary, said it was vital Kellingley workers employed by UK Coal and leaving on Friday are properly compensated.

“Britain’s miners built the prosperity of this country through dangerous, difficult and dirty work in our coal mines,” she said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude, a fair redundancy settlement and a real plan that can help young people in coalfield communities get into new clean energy industries so that they can power Britain’s future just as their parents and grandparents did in the past.”


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