Here’s a question for the anti-coal lobby. If coal is dying, how come there is an increasingly heated bidding war going on for Rio Tinto’s coal mines in Australia? Here’s another question, this time for the pro-coal lobby. If coal still has a viable long-term future as an energy source, how come the world’s biggest planned new mine is now hostage to whether the Australian government decides to loan it money?
Reconciling these two questions may seem like a challenge but both the battle for Rio Tinto’s existing mines and the struggles of India’s Adani to build its Carmichael project neatly show where coal currently finds itself.
Rio’s mines in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney are attractive to both Glencore and China’s Yancoal because they are likely to be profitable for the remaining life of the pits, which is expected to be around 20 years.
The Rio mines already have all the necessary infrastructure, being connected by rail to the major export harbour of Newcastle, the world’s largest coal export port.
They also have existing customers for the high quality thermal coal used to generate electricity, including utilities in Japan, which have preferred long-term supply agreements over the more volatile spot shipments that are more characteristic of deals to sell to major importers China and India.
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