The unwelcome renaissance: [Coal] Europe’s dirty secret (The Economist – January 5, 2013)

Europe’s energy policy delivers the worst of all possible worlds

BERLIN – WHILE coal production and use plummet in America, in Europe “we have some kind of golden age of coal,” says Anne-Sophie Corbeau of the International Energy Agency. The amount of electricity generated from coal is rising at annualised rates of as much as 50% in some European countries. Since coal is by the far the most polluting source of electricity, with more greenhouse gas produced per kilowatt hour than any other fossil fuel, this is making a mockery of European environmental aspirations. How did it happen?

The story starts, again, with American shale gas. As American utilities shifted into gas, American coal miners had to look for new markets. They were doing so at a time when slowing Chinese demand was pushing down world coal prices, which fell by a third between August 2011 and August 2012 and is below $100 a tonne. These prices make European utilities willing buyers. European purchases of American coal rose by a third in the first six months of 2012.

Compared with the rock-bottom price of gas in America, coal is not all that cheap. But it is a bargain compared with the price of gas in Europe. Although gas can be carted around in liquid form, that is expensive and the infrastructure required is still patchy; for the most part, gas is shifted through pipelines, and tends to be used close to where it originates.

So whereas coal has world-market prices, gas has regional prices, often linked in one way or another to the oil price. Many European gas contracts were negotiated years ago with the Russian gas giant, Gazprom, and despite a wave of renegotiations European gas prices have stayed high.

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The mixed fortunes of a fuel: Coal in the rich world (The Economist – January 5, 2013)

Why is the world’s most harmful fossil fuel being burned less in America and more in Europe? The first of two stories looks at America’s cheap gas and new rules

WASHINGTON, DC – IN A high-tech world, dirty black lumps of coal might seem like an anachronism. Yet coal is far from a thing of the past. However whizzy your iPad, your wall-mounted television or your electric car, the chances are that it is powered by the stuff. Coal-fired power stations provide two-fifths of the world’s electricity, and there are ever more of them. In the doubling of the world’s electricity production over the past decade, two-thirds of the increase came from coal. At these rates, coal will vie with oil as the world’s largest source of primary energy within five years. As recently as 2001, it was not much more than half as important as oil (see chart).

The main factor has been the unslakable thirst for energy in China, which in 2011 overtook America as the world’s biggest electricity producer. In 2001, according to the International Energy Agency, a club of rich nations, Chinese coal demand was about 600m tonnes of oil equivalent (25 exajoules). By 2011 China’s coal demand had tripled—a rise from two-thirds of the energy America gets from oil to twice that amount. China’s domestic coal industry produces more primary energy than Middle Eastern oil does.

Other developing economies are just as keen on coal, if not yet on such a grand scale. In India, producing 650 terawatt hours of electricity in 2010 took 311m tonnes of oil equivalent, and the power sector’s coal demand is growing at around 6% a year. The IEA reckons India could surpass America as the world’s second-largest coal consumer by 2017.

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Steelworkers suggest B.C. coal mines controlled by Chinese government – by Dirk Meissner (iPolitics – December 19, 2012)

The Canadian Press – VICTORIA – The United Steelworkers says it has dug up what it calls close ties between the Chinese government and the reportedly privately-run coal mine in northeastern British Columbia embroiled in a foreign-worker controversy.

The union released a report Wednesday that suggests HD Mining International Ltd. — the firm developing the proposed Murray River mine near Tumbler Ridge — has ownership links to the government in China, where workers receive low wages in unsafe conditions.

A union report titled “Who Owns Huiyong Holdings and other Questions on Planned Chinese-Owned Coal Mines in B.C. ” examines the ownership of Huiyong Holdings Group, which owns Huiyong Holdings (BC) Ltd., and holds 55 per cent of HD Mining.

Steve Hunt, Western Canada director for the Steelworkers’ union, said Wednesday the union found little evidence of the company’s mining operations in China.

“We employed an investigator in China who has some knowledge of what goes on in China and we just searched the best we could possibly search and we couldn’t find very much detail on the company at all, other than some of the players,” he said. “We’re trying to find out something about the mines that they have. . .What are they experts in? It’s hard to do because we can’t find anything about them.”

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Coal to rival oil as dominant energy source by 2017: IEA – by John McGarrity (Reuters/National Post – December 19, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017, and only a drop in world gas prices could curb the use of the dirtier fossil fuel in the absence of high carbon prices, the International Energy Agency said.

The IEA, the energy agency for developed countries, said earlier this year that without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.

China will use more coal than the rest of the world put together, while India will overtake the United States as the world’s second-largest consumer and become the biggest global importer, the Paris-based IEA forecast in its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report, released on Tuesday.

“Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.

Use of the highly-polluting fossil fuel has surged in the past decade, mainly because of stronger demand from China and India, where cheap coal-fired electricity has helped to drive breakneck economic growth.

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Old king coal to challenge oil’s dominance, says IEA – by Fiona Harvey (The Guardian – December 18, 2012)

Agency predicts further rise in coal use due to fall in price and failing EU emissions trading scheme, threatening green

Coal is likely to rival oil as the world’s biggest source of energy in the next five years, with potentially disastrous consequences for the climate, according to the world’s leading authority on energy economics.

One of the biggest factors behind the rise in coal use has been the massive increase in the use of shale gas in the US.

Coal consumption is increasing all over the world – even in countries and regions with carbon-cutting targets – except the US, where shale gas has displaced coal, shows new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The decline of the fuel in the US has helped to cut prices for coal globally, which has made it more attractive, even in Europe where coal use was supposed to be discouraged by the emissions trading scheme.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA, said: “Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

Coal is abundant and found in most regions of the world, unlike conventional oil and gas, and can be cheaply extracted. As a result, coal was used to meet nearly half of the rise in demand for energy globally in the past decade.

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Why training workers in Canada beats importing them from abroad – by Barrie McKenna (Globe and Mail – December 17, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA — Fast-tracking the entry of foreign workers to toil in Canada’s mines, oil fields and construction sites is certainly expedient. The work is there. So bring them in and get it done, for the sake of the economy. But a rented foreign work force is hardly an enduring solution to a skills shortage that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called “the biggest challenge our country faces.” At best, it’s a stop-gap.

Labour shortages are now a permanent feature of Canada’s labour landscape. The country is staring at a decade or more of critical labour scarcities as the massive baby boom generation retires and the economy grows. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will go begging for electricians, welders, pipe fitters, heavy equipment mechanics and many other trades.

The federal government’s recent announcement that it intends to bring in an extra 3,000 skilled tradespeople next year may be welcome news for employers.

It’s one thing to bring in foreigners to do jobs Canadians can’t or won’t do. Farmers have been doing it for years to harvest crops. But the program betrays the national interest if it is being used as a cover to import workers whose only asset is a willingness to work for a lot less than Canadians.

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B.C. mine to hire only Chinese temporary workers for years – CBC News (December 12, 2012)

HD Mining plans to start hiring Canadians after 4 years

The B.C. Federation of Labour says documents show it will be 14 years before Canadians replace all the temporary foreign workers from China hired to work at an underground coal mine in northern B.C.

Two unions are in court challenging more than 200 temporary foreign worker permits obtained by HD Mining for its Murray River underground coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C. The employer says there were no qualified Canadians to do the specialized work at the underground mine.

Documents tendered in the case include HD Mining’s previously unreleased transition plan, which outlines how the company won’t start hiring Canadian miners for more than four years and plans to continue using temporary foreign workers for the next 14 years.

“What the document says categorically is it will be 4½ years before a single Canadian will be working underground at the mine,” said B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair.

“After 4½ years, it will be 10 years before it will be a majority of Canadians working underground, and it will be 15 years before the temporary foreign workers are finished working in that mine.”

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No Canadian hires for four years at Chinese-owned B.C. mine – by Pav Jordan (Globe and Mail – December 13, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

MINING REPORTER — HD Mining International, building a large coal mine in northern British Columbia using Chinese workers, will take four years before it hires even a single Canadian miner, and another decade beyond that before the work force is fully local, court documents show.

According to documents made public on Wednesday by the B.C. Federation of Labour, HD Mining plans to use up to 201 workers from China to staff the mine through 30 months of construction and two years of ramp-up and mining.

It plans to phase in a Canadian work force at the so-called Murray River coal mine, near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., in the subsequent 10 years, at a rate of 10 per cent per year, documents showed. Murray River is expected to have a mine life of 40 years.

The revelations could deepen the controversy around the company – majority-owned by Chinese coal miner Huiyong Holding – and the use of temporary foreign workers in an industry suffering from skills shortages after demand for metals skyrocketed over the past decade.

Local unions were in court on Wednesday seeking an injunction that would prevent any more workers coming to the project pending a judicial review of the process that cleared the hirings.

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Chinese workers headed to Greenland – by Marilyn Scales (Canadian Mining Journal – December 11, 2012)

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.

If something happens twice, does that the beginning of a trend? The “something” is governments allowing foreign workers to fill jobs at mining projects. With the blessing of Canada’s federal government, HD Mining is importing “temporary” Chinese workers for its Murray River coal project in British Columbia. Greenland has passed legislation that will allow the employment of Chinese workers in Greenland at the Isua iron ore project belonging to London Mining plc.

In Canada, the idea of Chinese workers arriving to fill jobs at a coal mine was first floated a few years ago. Then the plan fell below the radar until The Globe and Mail newspaper revived the story a week ago when it was learned that speaking Mandarin is a requirement for working at the Murray River project.

In Greenland, the new legislation paves the way for companies to employ foreign workers at lower wages than they would pay natives of Greenland. All political parties voted for the law, with the exception of the largest opposition party which abstained.

The situations in Canada and Greenland vary on one notable point: Canada has a skilled mining workforce, Greenland does not.

By virtue of our world class mineral industry, Canada has a knowledgeable, inventive and hardworking pool of labour from which to choose.

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B.C. mine’s offshore hiring plan sparks conflict – by Pav Jordan and Wendy Stueck (Globe and Mail – December 12, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

TORONTO and VANCOUVER — When 60 Chinese workers arrive for work later this week at a British Columbia coal mine, they will be getting a lot more than they bargained for.

Hired by HD Mining International to work the Murray River coal project in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., the miners will walk squarely into a mushrooming debate about the use of temporary foreign workers in an industry running a massive labour deficit as Canada’s work force ages and new mines come on stream.

The workers will join 17 already here. All of them are skilled in the longwall coal mining method, and come to Canada directly from the coal operations of Huiyong Holding, one of two Chinese companies that own HD Mining. The other is Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc.

Local unions want Ottawa to reverse a decision to allow HD to hire up to 201 workers from China under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They say HD did not make sufficient efforts to hire locally before going abroad, that the company made Mandarin a requirement and advertised wages below the industry norm. Some question whether HD pushed the limits of the program in hiring so many workers for one operation, potentially creating the first Canadian mine that is not operated in either French or English. They also question whether advertised wages were truly competitive.

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Chinese miners asked to pay for Canadian jobs – by Lisa Laventure (CBC News – December 10, 2012)

CBC investigation finds recruiters offering jobs to inexperienced miners

Labour brokers may be charging Chinese miners up to $16,000 for the chance to work in Canadian mines as temporary foreign workers, a CBC investigation has found.

The National visited a prominent recruitment agency in Beijing carrying hidden cameras. Investigators posing as miners learned that workers with minimal mining experience are being offered positions in Canadian gold, copper and potash mines.

Recruiters said that, once working in Canada, miners would be paid no less than $10 per hour. Permanent workers in Canada’s underground and surface mines are paid on average $25 to $30 per hour.

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Business-backed website defends HD Mining – by Wendy Stueck (Globe and Mail – December 7, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Vancouver — HD Mining supporters have launched a website to support the company, which has come under fire for its plans to develop a coal mine with the help of Chinese miners brought to Canada under the temporary foreign worker program.

A website entitled Friends of HD Mining lists member companies in businesses including trucking, construction and restaurant services and says the initiative is funded by donations from those members.

It includes a bulletin headlined “HD Mining is under attack.”

“As fellow service providers to HD Mining, we feel the need to stand up for a company that has been supportive of all of us,” it says. “Certain organizations in B.C. have targeted HD Mining in an effort to succeed in their own selfish agenda. This website has been developed to provide a voice for the many Canadian-owned companies providing services to HD Mining and to set the record straight about our friend and client, HD Mining Ltd.”

The recent furor over foreign workers has overshadowed the positive impact of HD Mining’s project, says one of the business people involved in the campaign.

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Chinese investment OK but not workers, B.C. unions say in fight against foreign employees at coal mine – by Brian Hutchinson (National Post – November 30, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

VANCOUVER — Tumbler Ridge is a coal mining town, tucked away in northeastern B.C. All of its largest employers are in the same business: Extracting high quality coal from the ground and shipping most of it to Asia, where demand is insatiable.

The first Chinese investors arrived in Tumbler Ridge almost 10 years ago and began purchasing coal-bearing properties. They even bought a small lodge. And now the first wave of Chinese coal miners have landed, to the chagrin of some. Chinese money is welcome in Tumbler Ridge, it seems. But Chinese muscle is another story.

HD Mining International Ltd. is a private partnership, established last year by Chinese-owned entities, including the Chinese government. In April, the partnership obtained permission from Ottawa to hire on a temporary basis 201 foreign workers, for the development of a potential underground mine just south of Tumbler Ridge.

The Murray River coal project could eventually create up to 600 permanent jobs, and over a lifespan of 30 or more years yield up to three billion tonnes of coal. That’s just for starters, says the town’s mayor, Darwin Wren. “For every job underground, there would be another one above ground,” he says.

The Chinese insist they need their own workers to continue with the coal deposit’s “advanced exploration stage,” which precedes actual mine production.

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22 people die in China coal mine accident – by Geoff Candy ( – November 26, 2012)

According to government figures out in October, 1,146 people have died in 650 mining accidents so far this year in the country.

GRONINGEN (MINEWEB) – 22 people have died and one remains missing after an accident at a coal mine in China’s southwest Guizhou province.

According to media reports, a coal-gas outburst hit the Xiangshui Coal Mine in Panxian County on Saturday morning while 28 people were underground. To date, five miners have been brought to safety and rescue workers continue to search for the remaining miner.

According to Xinhua, the State Administration of Work Safety and the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety launched an investigation following the accident and, as a result, Lu Hongzhuan, chairman of the mine’s operator, Pannan Coal Exploitation, the mine’s General Manager Wu Chao and Chief Engineer Zhao Qingping were sacked.

The newswire reported that, according to a statement from a temporary office designed to oversee the rescue work and the investigation, the deputy general manager of the Guizhou Panjiang Group, which controls the coal mine, also resigned.

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Dehua shuts separate [B.C. coal] project over temporary worker concerns – by James Keller (Vancouver Sun – November 24, 2012)

THE CANADIAN PRESS – VANCOUVER – The legal and political troubles that have overshadowed a plan to bring 201 Chinese workers to a proposed coal mine in northern British Columbia have prompted one of the companies involved to shut down a separate coal project nearby.

Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. announced Saturday it has decided to wind down work at its Wapiti River coal project, located southeast of Tumbler Ridge.

Dehua owns a minority stake in HD Mining, which has generated headlines in recent months over its plan to bring Chinese miners to another proposed mine at Murray River, also near Tumbler Ridge. Two unions have asked Federal Court to throw out HD Mining’s temporary foreign worker permits, and the case has prompted the federal government to announce a review of the entire temporary foreign worker program, including HD Mining’s permits.

Dehua issued a statement early Saturday morning announcing it had filed a notice to shut down its Wapiti River project. The shut-down order is effective Sunday at midnight, the statement said.

“The decision has been forced upon Dehua following a deluge of calls from investors in Dehua’s mining operations in Canada,” said the statement, distributed by company lawyer Darryl Larson.

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