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A week in coal: 17 October 2014

World Coal,

As another week draws to an end, we present some of the stories from the global coal industry that caught the eye of the World Coal news team this week. 


“Coal is good for humanity”


 Full of praises for coal this week was Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, as he officially opened BHP Billiton’s Caval Ridge metallurgical coal mine in Queensland. The US$ 3.4 billion mine will initially produce up to 5.5 million tpa of premium quality metallurgical coal and is the company’s eighth operation in the region, creating 500 jobs. During the ceremony, Abbott was keen to sing the virtues of the oft-maligned fossil fuel: “Coal is vital for the future energy needs of the world,” the prime minister said during the opening ceremony. “So let’s have no demonisation of coal. Coal is good for humanity.”


Fighting poverty and inequality


Extolling the benefits of coal was a key theme of the news this week, as the 34th Coaltrans World Coal Conference took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the conference, keynote speaker Gregory Boyce, chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy, made an impassioned plea to world leaders to fight energy poverty and inequality by using 21st Century coal. Boyce said it was important to tackle two key energy challenges: creating low-cost energy access to satisfy projected energy growth, as well as addressing the immediate needs of the world’s energy impoverished. He also reviewed the policy platform that will be vital in achieving these goals.


Democrats attack coal at their peril


The continued downturn in the coal industry has been not far short of devastating to those towns and regions so reliant on so-called ‘black gold’. One of the hardest hit states in the US, West Virginia, is so tied to coal that any perceived attack on the industry is met with vehement reprisals. Though the state has historically been a stronghold for the Democratic party, it now looks to be the Republican party’s state to lose. The perceived ‘war on coal’, which has been spearheaded by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, has seen the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) endorse Republican candidates for all of the state’s Congressional seats. The state’s allegiance with the Democrats – stretching back to the 1920s with the coming of the United Mine Workers Union – could soon come to an end.


China takes a protectionist stance towards its coal miners


China is increasingly demonstrating a protectionist approach towards its domestic coal miners, which have been hard hit by a flood of cheap imports that have dragged down prices and left many Chinese coal miners in the red. Even as a new tax on coal sales comes into effect, previously existing “resource compensation fees” paid on coal will be ended, while the tax on sales of coal will have less impact than a tax on production would have in the currently oversupplied market. Meanwhile, tax rates will be set locally by provincial governments – meaning that regions with large coal mining industries, such as Shanxi, will be able to limit any tax’s impact on coal miners.


Government steps in on CBM proposal


In Scotland, there has been another twist in the long-running saga over planning appeals on two coalbed methane (CBM) projects. Dart Energy had originally applied to Falkirk and Sterling local councils for permission to drill for CBM at sites in Airth and the Forth Valley. However, Scottish ministers have now announced the government will make a final decision over the appeal for the proposed development sites. The government said the decision to recall the planning appeals was "in line with the government's cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland". The plans were initially submitted to the Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals in the summer of 2013. 

Written by Sam Dodson

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