A giant Glencore Plc coal project in Australia has been fast-tracked as the nation turns to its vast natural resources to lift the economy out of its first recession in almost three decades.
The A$1.5 billion ($1 billion) Valeria mine in Queensland has been designated a “coordinated project”, which the state said Friday would help to get new jobs happening quicker. That comes as the national government stands firm in the face of calls at home and abroad to shift away from the highly polluting fuel.
“This new mine has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs as Queensland recovers from the extraordinary shock of the global coronavirus pandemic,” state Treasurer Cameron Dick said. “Coal mining has a long history in Queensland and will continue to be a major industry for many years to come.”
The coal industry brings in around A$70 billion in annual export revenue. The government is betting on strong consumption of the fuel in Asia even as critics warn that the falling cost of renewables and global efforts to combat climate change may see that demand evaporate.
“A coal-driven economic recovery only throws us from one crisis into another,” said Gavan McFadzean, climate and energy program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation. Support for major new coal projects eroded the credibility of the state government’s commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef and reaching net zero carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050, he said.
Glencore’s proposed mine in the state’s Bowen Basin coal heartland will produce around 20 million tons a year of thermal and metallurgical coal, equal to about 4% of the nation’s output. That’s double the size of Adani’s controversial Carmichael project, also in Queensland, which has been targeted by climate activists for potentially opening up a new region to coal mining.
“This is an important and positive step in progressing the project, which is still at an early stage but has the potential to deliver a major jobs and economic boost to Central Queensland communities,” Glencore said in a media statement. The project will now be subject to a streamlined planning process overseen by the state’s independent Coordinator-General.
Valeria will replace production from other Glencore coal operations as they near retirement, including the nearby Clermont mine, and any thermal coal produced by the new project will be subject to the company’s cap on output announced last year.
Pembroke Resources Pty’s 15-million-ton-a-year Olive Downs met coal project, also in the Bowen Basin, is proceeding with the state’s backing after receiving environmental approval last month. Queensland is also encouraging the development of new gas resources, with a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell Plc and PetroChina Co. in April making an investment decision to proceed with their Surat Gas project.
(Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has committed $500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-powered plants in the U.S. by 2030 and slowing the construction of new gas plants.)
(Updates with comment from conservation group in fifth paragraph)
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