News Wrap

IN THIS morning’s News Wrap: Coal miners feel the pinch of political divestment; ERA considering options after toxic Ranger mine leak; and Rio takes the long view in dispute over Oyu Tolgoi.

Lou Caruana

Coal miners feel the pinch of political divestment

The Uniting Church in New South Wales has started acting on its April resolution to divest its holdings in coal stocks, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Moderator of the Synod Reverend Brian Brown is the first to admit it’s not a move that is going to send any of the miners broke.

It’s a bit different in northern Europe, where the Norwegian government’s giant $US840 billion ($909 billion) pension fund, one of BHP Billiton’s biggest shareholders, is caught in a political debate about investing in fossil fuels.

Norwegian financial services company Storebrand has already divested from coal producers and is now excluding coal-fired power. In the US, the United Church of Christ expects to be out of fossil fuels by 2018.

The trend toward selling, even if still on the fringes, comes at a difficult time for the coal companies, as they struggle to present a compelling investment case in the short term.

They remain confident despite the divestment campaigns: 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity, and coal is cheap, abundant and affordable.

ERA considering options after toxic Ranger mine leak

A change to lower-grade ores at the Ranger uranium mine was the catalyst that lead to a spill of radioactive material in December, according to the Rio Tinto subsidiary in charge of the mine, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Energy Resources of Australia confirmed that investigations into the December 7 spill - which has halted processing at the mine since - had been completed.

The probe showed that two protective layers inside a leach tank failed before the steel tank itself was eaten through by the toxic mix of acids and uranium particles.

Rio takes the long view in dispute over Oyu Tolgoi

The standoff between Rio Tinto and the Mongolian government over the basis to proceed on a $US5.1 billion ($5.5 billion) underground expansion of the Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold mine is set to drag into the second half of the year, according to The Australian.

Rio's 50.8%-owned subsidiary and a 66% partner in the mine, Canadian-listed Turquoise Hill, flagged the delay in its December-quarter report, which also forecast sharply lower production than previously forecast for 2014 from the initial $US6.2 billion open-cut development at Oyu Tolgoi.

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