YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up

PIKE River mine tragedy charges were laid in the fourth quarter of 2011, while the passing of the carbon tax and a roof fall at Anglo American’s Moranbah North mine were also top stories in ILN bulletins.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Q4 for coal industry as 2011 wraps up

Escondida's first 4100XPB shovel loads 360 ton trucks at an average of 116,000 tpd, and peaks of over 154,000 tpd.

Lauren Barrett

Perhaps the most dreaded news throughout the mining industry was on October 12, when the carbon tax bills were passed through the federal House of Representatives, imposing a fixed carbon price of $A23 a tonne from July 1, 2012.

The mining industry banded together to pan the news, claiming it would jeopardise thousands of jobs and undermine the economic competitiveness of the country.

Then New South Wales Minerals Council chief executive officer Nikki Williams said the carbon tax would hit NSW the hardest, through loss of jobs and investment.

“I am unaware of any government in the history of the world that has willingly and deliberately torpedoed current and future economic growth,” Williams said.

The Queensland Resources Council said the move was only a win for Australia’s export competitors.

“What the House of Representatives has delivered is the world’s biggest carbon tax on Australia’s resource sector industries, while none of our global competitors is even contemplating one,” QRC CEO Michael Roche said.

It was a double whammy for the industry, when in November the $11.1 billion minerals resource rent tax passed the House of Representatives.

The fourth quarter proved to be ripe for staging the merger and acquisition scene and takeover talks.

Both New Hope Corporation and thermal coal explorer Endocoal confirmed they had received a number of incomplete proposals from several prospective buyers.

Endocoal appointed Grant Samuel Corporate Finance as its financial advisor while New Hope appointed Pitt Capital Partners to review and manage potential transactions.

However, the most talked about takeover deals in the coal industry throughout the fourth quarter had to be Peabody’s grab of Macarthur and the proposed Aston and Whitehaven merger.

On October 25, Peabody Energy and ArcelorMittal acquired a majority stake in Macarthur Coal, following the revised $4.9 billion offer for the company.

Joint bidding vehicle PEAMCoal said it had a relevant interest in approximately 59.85% of Macarthur shares after the $16 per share bid for the miner was accepted.

The deal solidified months of speculation about a takeover, which had turned hostile after Macarthur rejected a $4.7 billion takeover offer.

A day after the deal was made, ArcelorMittal pulled out of the takeover, leaving Peabody Energy to swallow up Macarthur Coal on its own.

"ArcelorMittal has determined that it would no longer be appropriate to allocate substantial capital to the acquisition of a non-controlling, minority business interest," it said in a statement.

At the time, Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce played down the effect of ArcelorMittal’s pull-out, saying “we have always preferred a larger ownership”

Looking to America, Alpha Natural Resources’ $US210 million payout for the Upper Big Branch mine blast in West Virginia was a major milestone in the long-awaited settlement.

The blast killed 29 miners in 2010.

The agreement comprised $46.5 million in criminal restitution to the miners' families, $128 million to fund advanced mine safety upgrades, research and training and $35 million in penalties for federal mine safety violations.

The settlement was the largest for a mine disaster in US history.

Meanwhile, China coal mine incidents seemed to become a common occurrence in ILN reports throughout the quarter.

Incidents which resulted in death included gas explosions, cave-ins and gas bursts.

Many of the incidents happened in China’s illegal coal mines, despite a government crackdown on them throughout the quarter.

Keeping to overseas news, the announcement of three parties charged over the Pike River mine disaster also made headlines.

Those charged included Pike River Coal, its former CEO Peter Whittall and VLI Drilling.

In response to the charges, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, the law firm representing Whittall, said he would defend all alleged charges against him.

“Mr Whittall is a coal miner, he comes from a coal mining town and has worked in underground mines all his life … Mr Whittall will fight being scapegoated now,” the firm said.

“He is deeply saddened by the Department of Labour’s actions and intends to vigorously defend all charges laid against him.”

The announcement of the charges came in the same month as the disaster’s first anniversary.

Whittall did not attend a public memorial service for the tragedy but marked the occasion privately in Wellington.

On December 1, Whittall’s role as PRC boss ended but he said he would remain in New Zealand to continue with the inquiries into the disaster.

Mine incidents in Australia also topped ILN headlines.

On November 7, Anglo American’s flagship Moranbah North longwall mine in Queensland suffered a roof collapse, which was believed to cost Anglo at least 40,000 tonnes.

Speaking about the incident, an Anglo American spokesperson told ILN the operations at Moranbah had halted “due to a slump of ground in a conveyor drift”

No one was injured and an investigation into the incident commenced.

By November 29, the mine had not resumed operations.