NSW coal volumes increase after two years of decline

OFFICIAL figures show NSW coal production is rising again after two years of decline.

Industry body Coal Services said this week that raw coal production for the three months from July to September was up by 2.4 per cent or 1.5 million tonnes. Overall raw coal production had fallen during 2014-15 and 2015-16, but these falls had followed “11 years of unprecedented growth”.

RENEWED VIGOUR: Truck and shovel mining at the Rix's Creek operation, north of Singleton. The industry body Coal Services says coal production in NSW is increasing after a two-year downturn in volume. Picture: Ian Kirkwood.

RENEWED VIGOUR: Truck and shovel mining at the Rix's Creek operation, north of Singleton. The industry body Coal Services says coal production in NSW is increasing after a two-year downturn in volume. Picture: Ian Kirkwood.

The historically low coal prices that prevailed at the start of the year had the industry’s opponents claiming that the collapse was permanent, rather than a phase in a long-term commodity cycle of “boom and bust”.

But the “spot” price for one-off cargoes has almost doubled this year, going from about $US55 a tonne in January – or $80 a tonne at the 69-cent exchange rate at the start of the year –  to almost $US100, or $131 a tonne at the exchange rate of about 76 cents that prevailed at the end of October.

Although thermal spot prices have fallen slightly since then, the outlook is still more optimistic than it was at the start of the year.

Interestingly, the Coal Services statistics indicate that the bulk of the Hunter’s export coal is being sold at prices well below the headline-grabbing $US100 a tonne. Coal Services says 43 million tonnes of coal was shipped to 19 countries in the three months to the end of September, with a value of $3.4 billion. It says the average price of this coal was $78.93, which indicates a typical sale price of about $US58.50, or less than two-thirds of the current spot price.

By way of contrast, hard coking coal used in steelmaking is still bringing a reported $US300 a tonne, or $405 a tonne in domestic currency. This product comes almost entirely from Queensland, although about 15 per cent of the Hunter’s output is a semi-soft coking coal, also used in steelmaking, but with a recent spot price of about $US130 ($175) a tonne.

In terms of jobs, Coal Services puts the NSW production workforce at 19,185 full-time equivalent mineworkers, a fall of about 1 per cent from the preceeding three months.

It says 67 per cent were employed directly by the owner or operator of the mine, with the other 33 per cent working for contractors.

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