Australia and coal

From Global Energy Monitor

Australia is a major producer and consumer of coal. The country has undergone a massive expansion of coal mining, predominantly for export but also for coal-fired power stations, over the last thirty years. In 2019, Australia produced 504 million tonnes of coal, ranking 5th in the world.

Coal Resources

According to expert reports commissioned by the World Energy Council in 2011, Australia's reserves included “‘Subeconomic demonstrated resources’ and ‘inferred resources’, additional to the proved amount in place, are vast: Geoscience Australia’s current assessment puts those of black coal at 119 billion tonnes, of which 75 billion tonnes is estimated to be recoverable. Comparable figures for brown coal are 174 billion tonnes and 156 billion tonnes, respectively.”[1] On the resource quality in Australia's coalfields, see Adrian C. Hutton's scientific paper Geological Setting of Australasian Coal Deposits.

Resource Details

Category Reserve Classification Quantity Units Data Year
BGR Estimate Reserves 149,079[2] million tonnes 2019
BGR Estimate Resources 1,951,094[2] million tonnes 2019
Geological Reserves Reserves 149,079 Mt[3] million tonnes 2018
Geological Resources Resources 1,032,300[3] million tonnes 2018
Commercial Reserves Reserves 18,536[3] million tonnes 2018
Commercial Resources Resources 224,925[3] million tonnes 2018

Coal Production

Coal mining

In 2009-10 Australia total raw black and brown coal production was approximately 539.79 million tonnes. Of the total raw coal production approximately 267.6 million tonnes was produced in Queensland, 190.1 million tonnes in New South Wales, 8.39 million tonnes in Western Australia, 68 million tonnes of brown coal in Victoria, 3.84 million tonnes of black coal in South Australia and 680,000 tonnes of black coal in Tasmania.[4][5] 97% of Australia's total coal mining production came from the Queensland and New South Wales coalfields.[4]

For details on coal issues on a state-by-state basis see:

Of the estimated 471 million tonnes of raw black coal produced in 2010, 365 million tonnes were saleable. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimated 300 million tonnes were exported, despite the impact on production in Queensland from abnormally high rainfall late in the year. ABARE estimated that during 2010 exports of metallurgical coal increased by 18 per cent to 159 million tonnes and , while thermal coal exports increased by 1 per cent to 141 million tonnes. Coal exports earned $43 billion in 2010.[6]

In 2010 ABARE estimated that approximately 157.26 million tonnes of coal exports were metallurgical coal. Of this, it estimated that 97.7 million tonnes were of "high quality" coal which was sold, in order of value, to Japan, India, the European Union, China, Korea,Taiwan and Brazil. A further 59 million tonnes of metallurgical coal was sold. Thermal coal exports were estimated to total 134.98 million tonnes, with 66 million tonnes to Japan, 24.84 million tonnes to South Korea, 19.55 million tonnes to Taiwan and a little over a further 24 million tonnes to other countries.[4]

Based on 2009 data, the World Coal Association ranked Australia as the world's largest coal exporter[7] and the fourth largest hard coal coal miner. (The latter ranking excludes brown coal).[8]

Just under 80% of the coal mined in the country in 2010 was from open-cut mines.[4]A little over 75% of black coal mine is from open cut mines. Including brown coal mines in the tally -- all of which are open cut projects -- means that 79.6% of all coal is from open cut mines. As of July 2012 coal prices in Australia have dipped 30% since the beginning of the year, largely because of a dip in Chinese demand.[9]

Coal mines

Coal mining in Queensland is predominately in the Bowen Basin along with mines at Newlands, Blair Athol, and near Brisbane. In New South Wales the bulk of the coal mined is from the Gunnedah Basin.[10] BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), which is a 50-50 joint venture between BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan, accounts for more than one-quarter of Australia's annual coal exports.[10]

For a full list of current Australian coal mines see Global Coal Mine Tracker's coal mines in Australia. In April 2010 ABARE released detailed of dozens of new or under construction coal mines in Australia. See ABARE April 2010 major projects list for more details. (ABARE's next detailed listed is scheduled for late May 2011).

Minerals Resource Rent Tax

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) is a proposed tax on profits generated from the exploitation of non-renewable resources in Australia.[11] It is the replacement for the proposed Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT).

The tax, levied on 30% of the "super profits" from the mining of iron ore and coal in Australia, is proposed to be introduced from July 1, 2012.[11] The RSPT was initially announced as part of the initial response to the Australia's Future Tax System review, known as the Henry Tax Review, by theTreasurer of Australia, Wayne Swan and the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The tax is similar in concept, although different in operation, to the existing Petroleum Resource Rent Tax levied on off-shore petroleum extraction activities.

The RSPT was to be levied at 40% and applied to all extractive industry including gold, nickel and uranium mining as well as sand and quarrying activities. The tax was replaced by the MRRT following the appointment of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister of Australia in late June 2010.[12]

The controversy regarding the RSPT was such that an "ad war" between the government and mining interests began in May 2010[13] and continued until the downfall of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in June 2010.[14] The Australian Electoral Commission released figures indicating mining interests had spent $22m in campaigning and advertisements in the six weeks prior to the end of the Rudd prime ministership.[15] Mining interests re-introduced the advertisments arguing against the proposed revised changes during the 2010 federal election campaign.[16]

On the November 23, 2011, the tax passed through the lower house with the support of the Greens.[17] The bill is scheduled to be debated at the Senate in 2012.[18]

Massive floods cost Australian coal industry billions

In January 2011, floods in the Australian state of Queensland had cost companies in the country $2.3 billion in coal sales. Analysts reported that it could take months for coal production to resume. Since December 2010, about two-thirds of Queensland, an area twice the size of Texas, has been ravaged by massive flooding, which hampered coal mining and transport operations.[19]

The Queensland Resources Council predicted in late January 2011 that coal production would crash by between 25 and 50 per cent for the country's forthcoming March quarter. It was estimated that Queensland's gross state product for 2010-11 would take a hit of at least $4.5 billion, rising to $8 billion on the Queensland Resources Council's worst-case scenario.[20]

Coal Consumption

Australia consumed 129,642,679 short tons (st) of coal in 2016, ranking 10th in the world, accounting for about 11.4% of the world's total consumption.

Coal-Fired Power power stations

In 1962-62, total Australian coal production was 23.4 million tonnes, of which 2.71 million tonnes was exported. In 1982-83, 26.91 million tonnes of black coal was consumed for power generation with a further 33.42 million tonnes of brown coal used in power generation.[21] (ReadFinancing coal power stations in Australia has greater detail.)

Abandoned coal-fired power stations

  • Redbank 2 Power Station was a 151 megawatt power station proposed by National Power to use coal tailings and cost $230 million to build. In 2003 the proposal was rejected by the NSW Government. the NSW Infrastructure and Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, told parliament that "Redbank 2 would generate greenhouse emissions higher than the state average and at a higher intensity than other coal-fired station in the Hunter Valley," he told parliament.[26] The company lodged an appeal against the government's decision in the Land & Environment Court in early 2004. Climate Action Network Australia (CANA) joined the case as a third party. However, prior to the commencement of hearings scheduled for November 2004 the company abandoned its appeal.[27]

Proposed coal-fired power stations

  • Linc Energy is a Brisbane-headquartered company that has proposed to develop a "commercial Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) to Gas to Liquids (GTL) operation" in the Walloway Basin. It has floated the prospect that it could -- as a second stage in a project based on converting underground brown coal to gas -- build a 250 megawatt power station.[28] See Walloway Basin power station.
  • Caroona Coal Project, BHP Billiton, New South Wales. While the company has discussed the project as only comprising a proposed coal mine[30], concerns have been raised that the company is also required to investigate the possibility of an associated power station as well.[31][32]
  • FuturGas Project, South Australia is a proposal by Hybrid Energy Australia for a 300 megawatt brown coal fired power station. In November 2007 it was stated that the project would be subject to a two-year feasibility study. The project has a notional commissioning date of 2015.[33]
  • ZeroGen is a proposed Carbon Capture and Storage project in Queensland. It is proposed by ZeroGen Pty Ltd that the first stage of the project will be to build a 120 megawatts gross coal gasification plant located near Rockhampton in Central Queensland by 2012. "CO2 emissions will be captured at site and transported approximately 220 kilometres by truck for injection and safe storage in deep underground reservoirs in the Northern Denison Trough," the company's website states. The feasibility study on this part of the project is expected to be completed Stage One feasibility study is now expected to be completed by the end of 2009.[34] The second stage of the project, depending on the outcomes of the first stage, would involve the construction of a 400 megawatt CCS project in Queensland at a site yet to be determined. The pre-feasibility and feasibility studies for the second stage are scheduled to commence in the second quarter of 2008.[34]
  • Bluewaters Power Station Expansion is a proposal by Griffin Energy to add a further two 208 megawatt coal-fired generating units (3&4). They originally were proposed to be commissioned in 2012 and 2014 however they have been delayed due to a variety of factors including the fact that Griffin Coal went into liquidation. The company states that it "will also ensure the Bluewaters Power Station Expansion project will be capable of adopting carbon capture technology in the future, once this developing technology becomes commercially viable in Western Australia."[35]. Griffin Group went into receivership at the beginning of 2010, collapsing under nearly $1 billion of debt. Griffin coal has been sold to Indian company, Lanco Infratech, and the Bluewaters 1 & 2 power stations were sold to Japanese companies Kansai Electric Power Company and Sumitomo Corporation in early 2011.[36] As of May 2011, it is not yet clear whether the new owners will proceed with the building of new generating units, Bluewaters 3 & 4.

Coal exports

Australia is a leading coal exporter. In 2016, it exported 77% of its coal production.

Major Export Markets For Australian Coal (2008–2009)[38]
Country/Area Million Tons Coking Million Tons Steaming Million Tons Total Rank % of exports
Japan 43.3 61.5 104.8 1 39.8
Korea (ROK) 15.1 27.9 43.1 2 16.3
Taiwan 6.1 20.0 26.1 3 9.9
China 15.5 9.5 25.0 4 9.5
India 23.8 0.9 24.7 5 9.4
Europe 18.6 2.3 20.9 6 7.9

Coal export infrastructure

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Existing coal export terminals

  • Hay Point Coal Terminal, which is located 38km south of Mackay, is owned and operated by BHP Billiton. The company states on its website that "the terminal has the capacity to handle and despatch around 43-45 million tonnes of coal a year."[45].

Proposed coal export terminals

  • Balaclava Island Coal Terminal is a proposed new export coal terminal which is currently being investigated by Xstrata Coal Queensland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Xstrata Coal. Balaclava Island is located approximately 40 kilometres north of Gladstone. In July 2008 Xstrata Coal announced that it would undertake a pre-feasibility study for a coal export port for up to 20 million tonnes of coal per annum.[49]
  • Wiggins Island Coal Terminal is a coal export terminal for the port of Gladstone which has been proposed by Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal Pty Ltd, a consortium of 16 coal companies. At the end of September 2010 the consortium announced that eight coal companies had made commitments to export 27 million tonnes of coal which would be sufficient to enable the funding of the first stage of the terminal. The consortium stated that it expected that financing the proposal would be completed early in 2011 and shipments commence in 2014.[50]
  • Hunter Ports is currently developing a $2.5 billion coal terminal on the former BHP Steel site on the Hunter River in Newcastle, Australia.[51] The port would ship this coal to Asian markets.[52] The planned Hunter Ports terminal is subject to state government approval to use the proposed site, may start exports from 2015. Existing coal mines and projects in and around the Hunter Valley, where Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata Plc own mines, would support additional annual exports of 65 million to 90 million tons of coal “if there is the infrastructure".[52]

Export controls and taxation

Like several other coal exporting countries including Indonesia, in recent years Australia has seen the rise of resource nationalism, i.e. policies directed at capturing an increased share of the returns from natural resource exports.

Screening direct foreign investments in mining

In February 2008, in response to a growing wave of coal and iron ore mining proposals by state-owned Chinese companies, the Australian government adopted a new policy of screening investments on the basis of national concerns. The new policy replaced foreign direct investment (FDI) policies that had been in place since 1992, when the Keating Goverment removed special rules under its "One Nation" liberalization program.[53]

Carbon Capture and Storage

In September 2008 the main climate change adviser to the Australian government, Professor Ross Garnaut, outlined the results of modeling on the impact of global climate change policy. In one of his reports to the government, he wrote that "the future of the Australian coal industry depends critically on the success of carbon capture and storage not only in Australia, but in the rest of the world, and especially in Australia’s major coal markets in Asia."[54] Garnaut reported that the modeling showed that "the introduction of a near-zero-leakage CCS technology (with leakage reduced from 10% to 0.1%) would significantly increase the demand for coal-fired electricity generation and hence increase demand for Australian coal, relative to a scenario with only 90 per cent CCS."[54]

Australia and global warming

Experts are concerned that Australia, which has higher carbon dioxide emissions per capita than any country on earth, may also be the first to collapse from the impact of climate change. A study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation described its ecosystems as potentially the most fragile and vulnerable to climate change, in part because its climate is already hot, dry and variable. In addition, the population is concentrated on the coast, subjecting it to the rising oceans and damaging storms that accompany global warming.[55]

Australia's summer of 2009 has already shown record temperatures and drought in the country's worst heatwave in history. For the first time on record, temperatures passed 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit) for three days in a row, while other cities broke similar records. Most of the southern portion of the country is undergoing an unprecedented 12-year drought, and agricultural productivity has decreased dramatically.[55]

Experts say it will get worse as global warming continues. Even slight temperature increases are expected to worsen drought by 70 per cent in New South Wales and cut Melbourne's water supplies by more than one third. Professor David Karoly of the University of Melbourne warned that, while the record heat seems unusual, "it will become much more like the normal experience in 10 to 20 years."[55]

Australia has the highest carbon dioxide emissions per person of any major economy outside the Arabian peninsula. The country has been hard hit by droughts and bushfires. But the coal industry keeps their politicians on a short leash. [56]

Citizen action and protest

For a more extensive listing see Citizen action and protests against coal in Australia. However, some of the most recent protests from 2010 and 2011 are below.

March 28, 2010: Flotilla aims to block coal ships in Newcastle port

A flotilla of 60 rafts, kayaks and a yacht try to blockade coal ship movement into the port of Newcastle. Newcastle is the port through which the rapidly expanding coal mines in the Hunter Valley are being exported. "We're not willing to accept the massive expansion of the coal industry in New South Wales and coal is Australia's major contributor to climate change and it's also the fastest growing," said Rising Tide spokesperson, Naomi Hodgson.[57]

May 19, 2010: Tractor Blockade in Queensland

On May 19, 2010, 54 cotton and grain harvesters and tractors formed a kilometer-long blockade in Queensland, Australia, to protest the expansion of the coal seam gas mining industry on the Darling Downs. The blockade was accompanied by a rally of 500 farmers and other concerned citizens, organized by Save Our Darling Downs. Speakers expressed concern that extraction of methane gas from coal seams would require use of large quantities of underground water from the Great Artesian Basin, thereby undermining local agriculture and threatening farming communities such as Cecil Plains.[58]

September 26, 2010: Protests Close Australia Coal Port

Climate change activists in Australia associated with Rising Tide attached themselves to equipment inside the world's largest coal port, in Newcastle, Australia, shutting down its operations, the terminal operator and protesters stated. The protestors stopped operations at all three terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services, which typically runs a continuous operation, a company spokesman told the Reuters news agency. "All operations have temporarily stopped," the spokesman said, after about 50 protesters took action at dawn on Sunday morning. Some attached themselves to loaders and machinery inside the facility, while others demonstrated with banners.[59] News reports stated that two were arrested during the protests.[60]

October 2010: Projection about onto Yallourn power station targeting ANZ's role in financing coal

Yallourn projection sml.jpg

At least 33 protests have been held in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, with demonstrators giving out flyers and holding placards as well as hanging banners outside ANZ bank headquarters, and projecting the same message on a power station: ANZ We Pollute Your World. On 19 October 2010 Greenpeace displayed a projection on the side of Yallourn W power station, in Moe, Victoria, as part of the campaign targeting the financing of Australia's coal industry.[61] Greenpeace referred to the power station as "the third most polluting power station in Australia and one of ten across the country financed by ANZ over the last five years."[62]

October 21, 2010: Banner hung off ANZ state office, Brisbane

Banner hang 2 sml.jpg

On 21 October 2010 Greenpeace hung a banner on the side of the ANZ state headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland to highlight the the fact that ANZ has provided $1.6 billion in finance to the coal industry over the past five years while claiming to be a leader in sustainability. "ANZ have been winning awards for sustainability amd has a commitment for going carbon-neutral, but at the same time, they're the bigget financiers of polluting coal in Australia. We think that is hypocritical. They should put their money where their mouth is," said Greenpeace spokesman John Hepburn said. Four Greenpeace activists associated with the protest were arrested.[63]

November 26, 2010: Protesters Blockade Condamine Highway to Stop QGC

Activists with the Western Downs Alliance and the Friends of the Earth protested against coal mining, underground gasification, and coal seam gas operations by QGC. The actions were intended to kick off the organizations' "Lock the Gate" campaign. Members of Western Downs Alliance, which represents landowners living near Tara, blockaded the Condamine Highway before marching on QGC’s Kenya gas field south of Chinchilla. In Brisbane, about 40 protestors led by Friends of Earth spokesman Drew Hutton picketed outside QGC’s headquarters.[64]

July 2011: Direct action halts coal seam gas rig in Australia

On July 5, 2011 the NSW Nature Conservation Council released a statement stating that peaceful protesters stopped a coal seam gas exploration rig in the Pilliga Forest, south of Narrabri, Australia. One protester in climbing gear was suspended high above the ground at the top of a 25 metre rig at an Eastern Star Gas operation, with another group of protesters on site. Local groups Friends of the Pilliga and the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, and Newcastle-based Rising Tide conducted the action to highlight the environmental costs of Eastern Star’s proposed 1100 gas well project in the Pilliga Forest.[65]

September 2011: Protester chains himself to test drilling rig

In September 2011 an environmentalist chained himself to a test drilling rig that was located eight metres off the ground to protest the Bacchus Marsh coal mine project. The activist, Shaun Murray, of the Switch Off Coal group, said he would not leave until has was removed forcibly. He said he had a group of supporters that were helping him maintain his protest.

The activist said he was prepared to be charged with trespass. "There is police here and they've asked me to leave, but I've told them I wouldn't be leaving voluntarily," he said. "I'm prepared to stay here for as long it takes. At the end of the day if I haven't been removed I'll probably call it a day and consider that a good day's work. But I expect the police will call a search and rescue unit and bring a cherry picker to cut me off."[66]

Articles and Resources


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  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 Geoffrey Lean and Kathy Marks, "Parched: Australia Faces Collapse as Climate Change Kicks In," The Independent, February 1, 2009.
  56. Paragraph 4 "[1]"
  57. "Protesters trying to block Newcastle's coal port", ABC News, March 28, 2010.
  58. "500 Strong Protest to Reject Coal on the Darling Downs", Six Degrees, May 22, 2010
  59. "Protests close Australia coal port" Ajazeera, September 26, 2010.
  60. "Pair arrested over coal port protests" Dan Cox, September 26, 2010.
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  63. "Greenpeace protesters arrested after scaling ANZ building in Brisbane and unfurling banner", Courier Mail, October 21, 2010.
  64. John Farmer, "Protestors send message to QGC," The Chronicle, November 27, 2010
  65. "Direct action halts coal seam gas rig" NSW Nature Conversion Council, Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2011.
  66. "I won't budge, coal-mine protester says" Adam Cooper, The Age, September 19, 2011.

Related Global Energy Monitor articles

Coal in Australia

Australian coal industry lobby groups

State profiles on coal

External resources

  • Productivity Commission, The Australian Black Coal Industry, Productivity Commission, Final Report, 11 February 1999. (This link is to the umbrella page which has sub-links to the final report, submissions and the government's response to the report).
  • "Heat treatment", Sydney Morning Herald, October 29, 2009. (Pdf) The document states that "this is a list of greenhouse gas emitting companies and peak industry bodies and the firms they employ to lobby government. It is based on data from the federal and state lobbying registers."
  • Dr. Bart Lucarelli, Australia's Black Coal Industry: Past Achievements and Future Challenges, Stanford University Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, March 2011. (Pdf)

External Articles

Citizen Groups

New South Wales

Queensland groups

National groups