Mining for facts

The Australian coal industry has struck back at the panoply of anti-fossil fuel propaganda dominating its media coverage with a 54-page book (“Coal Hard Facts,” to be found on the Minerals Council of Australia website) that delivers a deluge of data.

This forms part of a wider coal campaign the MCA is launching today (see

With a century of black coal resources still at hand (at present levels of exploitation), the sector has a lot to fight for and it wants the community to understand the value it brings in economic benefits, including jobs, wages and taxes.

More than a few Australians, fed an unrelenting diet of the “death of coal” in the media, may be startled to see the MCA asserting that the fuel’s national export values will increase from $37 billion in the financial year just ended to $47 billion in 2019-20 on the back of a rise in thermal coal sales from 201 million tonnes to 234 Mt at the decade’s end with metallurgical sales going up to 204 Mt (from 186 Mt now).

The latter is terra incognita for large numbers of people, a colleague was explaining to me only last week. For an awful lot of Australians, it seems, coal equals power stations and the critical global role it plays in steelmaking is lost to view.

(As a bystander these days – it is now 12 years since I left the energy industry lobbying game after working in it for 25 years – I am struck by the visual potency of the “Cars=Coal” two-page spread in the MCA publication driving (sorry) the point that every car on our roads is a product of the coal industry, given that every tonne of steel needs about 800 kilograms of coking coal.)

With the Paris summit of the UN climate change talks now weeks away, the gulf between rhetoric and reality is highlighted by the industry’s claim that, even with a downturn in Chinese demand, global metallurgical coal requirements will rebound to 305 Mt next year.

Overall, says the MCA, the world will use a billion tonnes more coal in 2019 than today and the fuel is a critical part of meeting a foreshadowed 21 per cent increase in global primary energy demand by 2030.

I’m a great believer in promoting the contribution the resources sector makes to the well-being of every Australian through cumulative corporate tax and royalty payments.

Jobs in regional Australia don’t seem to influence public opinion within four kilometres of capital city GPOs all that much – but the contributions of the petroleum and mining sector taxes to State government funding for hospitals, schools, roads and other services should, given that just about every suburban barbecue conversation contains some form of gripe about the need for more attention to these areas.

The MCA commentary says that black and brown coal royalties generated $2.9 billion in revenue for Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria in 2014-15, double what they were in 2007-08 – and the association forecasts that they will add up to $15 billion in aggregate in the four years to 2018-19.

In total, MCA adds, coal industry corporate taxes and royalties delivered $37.8 billion to Australian governments between 2007-08 and 2013-14.

To which one can add $6 billion a year now being paid in wages to 41,100 direct employees and another 109,000 workers providing services to the industry.

The immediate battleground for anti-fossil fuel activists, of course, is any new (or expanded) coal mine – and, given the volume of noise in the media, it may come as a surprise again to many that 15 Australian coal mine projects were completed in the two years to April, adding 57 million tonnes to this country’s export capacity.

For the MCA and its members, the big focus now is on the 63 mines and related infrastructure development in the pipeline, with 27 out of 40 proposed mines in Queensland and another 11 in NSW.

Meanwhile, of course, the main war of words here and overseas, which will hot up a lot on the last kilometres of the winding road to Paris, is heavily about the activist  greens’ belief that coal and gas power stations can be consigned to history as we embrace wind, wave, solar and other renewables.

The Minerals Council has produced another two-page spread in its book that really should get some exposure.

“What,” it asks, “would it take to replace fossil fuels in the global power business?”

The answer, it asserts, is 95,900 square kilometres of solar technology projects (ie South Korea) or just over a million square kilometres of wind farm sites (eg South Australia) with 3.46 million turbines.

And, it points out, there 16 mined metals and minerals in a solar panel while “there is more than 220 tonnes of coal in every wind turbine” because every part of the structure depends on steel (including the steel-reinforced concrete in its base).

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