rain makes coal heavy, slippery and harder to dig up: what does la niña mean for this already disrupted industry?
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

As the La Niña weather event wreaks havoc across New South Wales, coal operators are suffering. The Australian coal company Whitehaven is among them—last week slashing its production forecasts after disruption by floods and heavy rain.

The irony of a coal company being hit by extreme weather events was not lost on some. While it’s hard to know how climate change is influencing this La Niña, evidence suggests flood events will become more frequent and intense as the planet warms.

Climate variations cause problems for many industries, and coal is not immune. Wet coal is heavier to transport. And rain can disrupt both mine operations and the transport networks crucial to moving coal and mine workers.

All this comes as coal demand surges, and as pressure mounts for the industry to wind back production to help tackle climate change. So let’s look at what the industry faces in these turbulent times.

Rain on the coal parade

Australia is the world’s second-biggest thermal coal exporter, behind Indonesia. Our shipments mostly end up in Japan, India, Vietnam and South Korea.

Thermal coal is burnt to make electricity. Australia also produces metallurgical or “coking” coal used to make steel.

In recent years, extreme weather in Australia has exposed the coal industry’s vulnerability to climate risk.

Research shows the 2010/2011 Queensland floods affected about 40 of the state’s 50 coal mines, costing more than A$2 billion in lost production.

Australia is now experiencing more heavy rain thanks to a third consecutive La Niña. It led to floods in Queensland last year that forced the Baralaba North Coal Mine to suspend operations after water affected the mine and access roads. Workers were stood down without pay, prompting anger from the union.

In the NSW Hunter Valley, heavy rain in July this year forced closures to a rail network that connects about 40 coal mines to the Port of Newcastle. Coal export services were suspended and the disruption pushed up coal prices.

Heavy rain is likely to interrupt supply for the remainder of spring and into summer. Last week, Whitehaven said rain and local flooding were affecting production at two open-cut mines near Gunnedah in NSW. Roads were cut off as dams and rivers near the mine spilled over, forcing the company to transport staff to the mine by helicopter.

Rain can bring other problems. Wet coal can slip and spill from conveyor belts while being loaded onto ships. And wet coal is heavy, making it more expensive to transport.

Volatile times for coal

Australian coal exports remain strong. But the rain disruptions add to already unsettled times for coal, both here and abroad.

Demand for coal has increased in the past two years, for a number of reasons. First is the global economic rebound from the COVID pandemic. Second is soaring gas prices following Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Diesel supply issues and upcoming cuts to crude oil production are also driving coal demand.

As the Northern Hemisphere heads into winter, demand is likely to increase further. The United Kingdom, for example, plans to keep coal plants operating this winter, despite a longer-term plan to permanently close them by October 2024. And Asia may have to lean more towards coal for the next six months as liquified natural gas flows into Europe.

All this has pushed coal prices up. So rain-related disruptions to Australian coal exports may result in missed opportunities for our coal operators.

At the same time, the coal industry faces headwinds.

Shipping costs have reached new highs. For Australian exporters, China’s ban on Australian coal is an added complication—however this week’s meeting between the two nation’s leaders may have thawed diplomatic relations.

Then, of course, there’s climate change. Coal is the world’s largest source of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. There’s widespread acknowledgement we must move away from burning coal and transition to renewable energy to avoid the worst climate harms.

Many countries still rely on coal for energy security and for use in industrial processes. Coal also supports jobs and provides export income.

In India, for example, the minister in charge of coal production says the fossil fuel will play an important role in the country until at least 2040. And a study released last month found hundreds of coal companies around the world were developing new mines and power stations.

So moving away from coal—particularly thermal coal—is likely to take time.

What does all this mean?

In the short term, as La Niña hangs around, Australia may struggle to fulfill its coal supply commitments over the Southern Hemisphere spring and summer.

This is likely to add further headaches to the already crunched energy market.

Wet conditions are not the only climate threat to the mining industry. Drought and heat, for example, reduce the availability of water needed to operate mines. And extreme heat can affect equipment, electricity supply and worker productivity.

In the longer term, the prospects for Australia’s coal exports are very uncertain. The Reserve Bank, for example, says coal and gas exports from Australia would at least halve if big buyers including China, Japan and South Korea meet their climate commitments.

There are many types of coal—and challenges abound in replacing them with cleaner alternatives. Until the transition is complete, coal is among many industries that must adapt to future weather extremes. Provided by The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Citation: Rain makes coal heavy, slippery and harder to dig up: What does La Niña mean for this already disrupted industry? (2022, November 16) retrieved 16 November 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-11-coal-heavy-slippery-harder-la.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

TECH NEWS RELATED

TikTok EU ban on the table if social network doesn’t comply with new laws

TikTok is one of the most popular social networks out there. But TikTok is also a cause of concern for western governments that worry about the company’s ties to the Chinese government. TikTok can’t run on most devices the US government issues, and there has been talk of a ...

View more: TikTok EU ban on the table if social network doesn’t comply with new laws

Don’t Buy a Foldable Until Samsung Brings This Prototype to Life

Samsung Display via The Verge The world of foldable phones is surprisingly stagnant. The Galaxy Z Fold gets a tiny little upgrade every year, and rival phone brands loosely copy Samsung’s homework. But a new Samsung Display prototype called the “Flex In & Out” could turn this narrative on ...

View more: Don’t Buy a Foldable Until Samsung Brings This Prototype to Life

Best free sports streaming apps in 2023

Cutting the cord on cable television is something tons of people have done over the past five years. But that hasn’t proven to be the smartest way to continue to watch sports. Whether it comes from premium sports website subscriptions to keep tabs on your favorite players, or even fantasy ...

View more: Best free sports streaming apps in 2023

Avengers 5 might have Ant-Man in it, Quantumania star teases

The first MCU Phase 5 movie will be Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the third installment in the Ant-Man franchise and a film with much higher stakes than the previous episodes. The sequel will deliver the MCU’s first Kang (Jonathan Majors) villain after we met a somewhat good He Who ...

View more: Avengers 5 might have Ant-Man in it, Quantumania star teases

Sharing a Netflix Account? Get Ready to Pay For It

DANIEL CONSTANTE/Shutterstock.com Netflix is about to get serious in its efforts to eliminate freeloaders. If you share a Netflix account with family or friends outside your household, get ready to pay for it. A new “paid sharing” system could roll out starting next month, and you’ll have to pay a ...

View more: Sharing a Netflix Account? Get Ready to Pay For It

‘7 Wonders’ Board Game Gets a New ‘Edifice’ Expansion

Asmodee and Repos Production Board game lovers have a wonderful reason to celebrate today. Board game makers Asmodee and Repos Production announced their latest collaboration: 7 Wonders Edifice, an expansion to the popular board game 7 Wonders. The game launches on February 24th for $29.99. 7 Wonders: Edifice adds ...

View more: ‘7 Wonders’ Board Game Gets a New ‘Edifice’ Expansion

T-Mobile Kicks Off 2023 With Another Data Breach

r.classen / Shutterstock.com In a press release, T-Mobile confirms that it detected a data breach in its systems on January 5th. A “bad actor” managed to steal personal information (but not financial data) from around 37 million customers. This is the eighth T-Mobile data breach since 2018. The hacker ...

View more: T-Mobile Kicks Off 2023 With Another Data Breach

Apple appeals to UK competition watchdog investigation about mobile browser dominance

Apple has filed an appeal against the UK’s competition watchdog regarding its dominance of mobile browsers in the cloud gaming market, reports Reuters. The Competition and Markets Authority started investigating this dominance by the Cupertino firm and Google. Lawyers representing Apple believe the investigation should be reviewed as CMA ...

View more: Apple appeals to UK competition watchdog investigation about mobile browser dominance

Galaxy S23 Ultra release date and specs leak finally reveals everything about the new model

WhatsApp for iOS rolling out the ability to create a chat with yourself

Amazon Prime Music Unlimited changes streaming prices, now matches Apple Music

Deadpool 3 and Secret Wars to feature Fox’s X-Men, according to Marvel insider

Report: OLED iPad Pro still on track for 2024 release, 2026 for MacBook Pro

How to negotiate over practically anything

HomePod 2 praised in exclusive hands-on before launch

M2 Pro MacBook Pro Amazon preorder deal gives you $50 off

What “choice” means for millions of women post-Roe

Singapore FinTech firm Pilon secures $5.2M seed funding led by Wavemaker Partners

Capital Square Partners and Basil Technology team up for $700M tech fund in Asia

This feel-good movie about man’s best friend is dominating Netflix

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News