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CANA: Bathurst hits its own “perfect storm”

Written By: - Date published: 3:35 pm, February 17th, 2014 - 22 comments
Categories: Mining - Tags: , , , ,

Coal Action Network Aotearoa has this characteristic story of the problems with the cost structure of opportunistic mining in NZ.  The current world price of the coal found on the Denniston Plateau has sunk considerably below Bathurst Resources’ stated break-even price and shows no signs of rising.  What is the bet that NZ is going to wind up with another unwanted hole in the ground as a shell company gets folded up? Post used with permission.

Coking coal prices since 2010.

Coking coal prices since 2010. Source: macrobusiness.com.au

When Bathurst resources started sniffing around New Zealand for something to make money from, the price of coking coal (or metallurgical coal = metcoal) was looking pretty good.

It was back in 2007/8 and the commodities world was doing high fives as the demand for steel – and coking coal – soared.  Prices soared.  Bathurst moved into New Zealand, set up with L&M’s Buller Coal, and started the process of trying to get consent to mine the beautiful and ecologically precious Denniston Plateau.

By the time Geoff Butcher, Bathurst’s economic guru, gave evidence in May 2011 to the West Coast Regional Council consent hearing, prices had soared again, to around $300 a tonne, largely due to floods in Queensland mines causing a drop in global supply. But what was Butcher’s evidence? Did he base his economic analysis on a coal price of $300 or $240? Did he venture a coal price at which the mine would break even?

More than a year later, in the Environment Court, Mr Butcher had revised his evidence down by about $30 a tonne, but was told by the judge that he had to come to an agreement with the Forest & Bird economist from NZIER, Peter Clough.

That statement, a “caucusing agreement,” signed by both experts in court, said:

 ”The project breaks even at a price of US$165, and the company is unlikely to proceed if it is only expecting to break even, so a minimum expected price for the project to proceed is perhaps $190.

“The company current view of the medium term price is $240 but PC suggests in his evidence a more likely price in the range of $165-$200.”

 As The Press’s Michael Berry reported from the Environment Court:

“If the price falls to US$160 a tonne – a 30 per cent drop on the assumption – the project’s net present value would be not much above zero and the shareholders would get nothing, his analysis says.”

 Just last week, BMA (BHP Billiton’s alliance with Mitsubishi), completed a contract with European and Indian companies for $131-$135 a tonne, a trend that experts say is expected to continue throughout 2014 due to a global oversupply of coking coal. BHP had, the week before, shed another 230 workers from its Queensland Saraji mine. Other mines are also shedding jobs.  The sector’s in trouble.

BMA did well to secure its price, given the average spot price for coking coal today is US$127, around 23% less than what Bathurst needs to break even.  And none of this is helped by the extremely strong NZ dollar that every day will push up an export price.

No wonder the company is now starting to hint that it might just delay its planned ramp-up to 1Mt of coal a year. Why would you dig up that much coal and sell it at a loss?

What has also not helped Bathurst is the low price for thermal coal, meaning they are not a very cashed-up company as their other mines built to finance Denniston are not bringing in as much money as they’d hoped. This  was the message from Forsythe Barr after BRL’s quarterly report last week:

 ”Coal production was insufficient to ensure Bathurst was cash positive and operating cash flows were a disappointing $7.3 million as a result,”

 What happens to a coal company when the prices crash?

Maybe we should look at Solid Energy’s experience. While there were quite complicated reasons cited for Solid’s demise, the reason most often quoted by both the company and the Government was the “perfect storm” of – get this:  plummeting coal prices and a strong New Zealand dollar.

Sound familiar?

Bathurst needs cash.  Last year Hamish Bohannan told investors that he was confident steel giant Stemcor would be good for the $50m in cash it had promised Bathurst.  But Stemcor is still negotiating its way out of a $1.2bn debt, something it promised to sort out last October.

Who will finance the Denniston mine?  Bathurst still hasn’t paid off its $5m loan from Westpac.

Part of the purchase arrangement, to avoid paying too much up-front, was a requirement to pay NZD$40m to L&M when they have extracted 25,000 tonnes and a further $40m when they have extracted $100m. Only then do they get to keep any profits.

Solid Energy’s “perfect storm” happened at a time when you could sell a tonne of coal for $165. Bathurst couldn’t get anything like that today. How’s it going to pay L&M with that type of income?  Can it even afford to pay its workers?

Today’s low price of coal is all about oversupply.  But there’s also a declining demand in steel, and experts tell us that’s not going to change any time soon.

 There are some perfect solutions to Bathurst’s looming “perfect storm.”

First, Bathurst should stop right now, before they even start.

They promise 225 jobs, but that’s already out the window if they don’t “ramp up” to the one million tonnes that would produce that magic figure.  Shareholders will get nothing.  New Zealand will get nothing in terms of royalties as the company would be operating at a loss.

If the continuing oversupply of the coking coal market continues, as it’s supposed to for at least this year, and the global demand for steel continues to drop as it’s also expected to, we could well be looking at a destroyed Denniston Plateau, few – if any – jobs, and possibly more redundancies on the West Coast.

The other lesson here must be for Westpac, which has lent Bathurst $5m – more than half of its current cash reserves – which Bathurst may never be able to pay back.  Westpac may be the first NZ company to demonstrate that financing fossil fuels is a loser.

When you consider the damage this loan can do to Westpac’s reputation as the “most sustainable bank” with a big new lending programme to “Clean Tech,” what on earth is in it for them?

Perhaps it’s better to quote someone else to finish up:  Peter Huck in Friday’s NZ Herald, nails our view of Westpac’s loan to Bathurst, in light of its so-called sustainability claims:

“However, critics see this as “sustainability lite”, rearranging the deckchairs as climate change worsens. Had Westpac – indeed, most companies and governments – factored in the daunting cost of adapting to rising seas, water shortages, damage to infrastructure, disruption of supply chains in the global economy and myriad other challenges posed by climate change?”

This table below sets out the recent history of coking coal prices

Date  Coking coal price (USD) per tonne Event
2007/08 $98
2008/9 Coking coal prices treble to $300 + Global excitement around demand for steel and need for coking coal. Rockets in price predicted.Bathurst joins L&M in joint venture Buller Coal and applies for consent and concessions to mine Escarpment.
2010 $200 Bathurst buys out L&M’s share of Buller Coal, sets up in NZ.
May 2011 $330 Bathurst evidence to WCRC (Geoff Butcher) based coal price on $275/tonne.
Nov 2012 $170 Environment Court document:  Caucusing statement agreed between Geoff Butcher and Forest & Bird expert NZIER’s Peter Clough, November 2012: “The project breaks even at a price of US$165, and the company is unlikely to proceed if it is only expecting to break even, so a minimum expected price for the project to proceed is perhaps $190. The company current view of the medium term price is $240 but PC suggests in his evidence a more likely price in the range of $165-$200.” Michael Berry, The Press, reports from Environment Court:“If the price falls to US$160 a tonne – a 30 per cent drop on the assumption – the project’s net present value would be not much above zero and the shareholders would get nothing, his analysis says.”
Feb 2014 QLD Coal contracts:$127 “Analysts at Macquarie this month dropped their 2014 coking coal forecasts by 8 per cent to $US147 a tonne and for next year by 13 per cent to $US156.” – The Australian
Feb 2014 BHP Mitsubishi Alliance contracts settled at $135 Bathurst hints that it might not ramp up to 1Mt a year (quarterly report) (NZ Resources).Iron Ore, Coking coal outlook looks bleak (Mining.com)

22 comments on “CANA: Bathurst hits its own “perfect storm” ”

  1. Richard Down South 1

    One wonders if Westpac was pushed into lending by the Govt…

    • tricledrown 1.1

      Westpac runs the National party look at westpacs econmic solutions posted on their website in red
      The only difference word for word verbatim is that The National parties site is printed in blue.

  2. Molly 2

    Not relevant to the post, but of interest in any discussion about BHP in NZ.

    Pacific Steel in Otahuhu has been purchased from Fletchers by BHP – sale announced to staff today. And several parts will be shut down. I expect there will be more details released via the media soon.

    • Rich 2.1

      A bit relevant, the Otahuhu mill is a recycling facility and I think these are usually electrically driven (and thus don’t use coal directly). Not sure whether this will continue at Glenbrook, but given a supply of scrap, recycling is usually a cheaper source of construction steel.

      • Jenny 2.1.1

        This is relevant in that in that the Otahuhu mill is a recycling facility.

        The Glenbrook Steel mill used to have a huge recycling facility employing an electric arc furnace to smelt scrap steel, which was brought in by rail. The recycling unit at Glenbrook was much bigger than the Otuhuhu plant taking the vast bulk of New Zealand’s scrap steel waste. Built at huge expense by the taxpayers under “Thing Big”. The arc Glenbrook arc furnace and all its auxillary plant was a huge operation, employing dozens of workers, the mountain of scrap pile ran the length of three football fields. For many years the arc furnace ran in tandem with the titanomagnetite iron sand process. Under privatisation, to maximise profits this wonder of engineering was cut up for the price of all its electric cabling.

        The Glenbrook management realised that they could employ less workers and make more money producing steel from the freely available titanomagnetite iron sand resource, than from recycling scrap steel. This is only possible because the super cheap price coal which is burned in the kilns and multihearths at Glenbrook does not internalise the cost to the environment.

        Not only that, but the coal being burned at Glenbrook is currently being subsidised by the taxpayers.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2

        All steel mills in NZ are electrically driven but they still use coking coal. It’s the combining of carbon and iron that makes steel. The source of the carbon is the coking coal.

        • Jenny 2.1.2.1

          Recycled steel already has carbon in it.

          And, it is infinitely recyclable

          All that is missing is the will to do so.

          What happened to the vast amounts of steel scrap that used to go to Glenbrook?

          • Jenny 2.1.2.1.1

            “Steel can theoretically be recycled indefinitely, with the remelting and alloying process ensuring its quality. That requires energy, but much less than to make new steel, and it needs no new source of carbon so is generally produced in electric arc furnaces. The current global rate of steel recycling is 30%, helping keep carbon emissions from pushing ever higher. Obviously there are limits to what can be collected for reuse but it should be possible to raise it to 80%, and would be if there was a sufficient price on carbon. Failure to price environmental damage leads to massive waste because collecting material for reuse is “just not worth it”.”

            Jeanette Fitzsimmons CANA April 24, 2013

        • Jenny 2.1.2.2

          “It’s the combining of carbon and iron that makes steel. The source of the carbon is the coking coal.”

          Draco T Bastard

          “Can We Make Steel Without Coal?”

          Jeanette Fitzsimmons investigates:

          “Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) is committed to opposing all new coal mines in order to meet that target. However, 60% of Solid Energy’s coal production in NZ is for steel making, mainly for export, and the company says that “there is no way of making new steel without coal”.

          If this is true, principled climate campaigners must either stop opposing new coking coal mines on climate change grounds, (Happy Valley, Denniston Escarpment, Mt William, Pike River) or propose a world with no new steel. (There are of course strong biodiversity reasons for opposing some of these mines but it is a different argument.)”

          “Fortunately Solid Energy’s claim is not true.”*

          Jeanette Fitzsimmons

          “Carbonscape, a NZ firm which has developed new very efficient technologies using microwaves to process wood waste into charcoal, calculate that with their process it would take 1.6BT biomass globally to replace all the coal currently used in iron and steel making. That is around 3% of the 50 B tpy of world annual biomass productivity.”

          Jeanette Fitzsimmons

          *my emphasis J.

  3. Bill 3

    But there’s also a declining demand in steel, and experts tell us that’s not going to change any time soon.

    So, if steel is used in infrastructure and construction… and if China’s demand for steel is dropping away (slowed growth in demand) while demand in Europe and India has been flat or dropping… then doesn’t that indicate that the world is on the verge of another popped bubble?

    There is no convincing argument for mining coal, gas, oil anyway, while there are compelling arguments for leaving the whole lot where it is. I’m guessing a bursting bubble might just give a nice kick in the head to those already unconvincing pro-coal/oil/gas arguments.

    Not to say I celebrate an impending ‘pop!’ because, well…we all know who is made to pay and how.

    Difference this time is that the domino falls in China and lands right on top of Australia, which in turn puts NZ deep in the shit. Bet your glad there’s a ‘Deposit Guarantee Scheme’ in place that allows banks to recoup any investment losses from your savings – if you have any.

    • adam 3.1

      The bubble burst in 2007, this is just the lag time. It’s a case of the economic blind leading the stupid off a cliff and we all get to watch.

      This is what happens when you base an economic system on wishful thinking, and a belief in ethereal processes.

      And why is coal so cheap, it’s carbon based product and in limited supply. 200-300 years at current consumption, with falling rates of quality every 20 years or so, from about now. This is madness, the lunatics are running the world and they don’t give a shit for my grandkids, grandkids.

  4. Ad 4

    I had no idea about the “caucusing agreement” and its effective threshold for an economic coal mine.
    Well researched article, appreciated.

  5. Jenny 5

    Last November a TV3 interactive debate, billed under the title: “Does New Zealand Need More Mining”

    http://www.3news.co.nz/The-Vote-Meet-the-teams/tabid/1789/articleID/322108/Default.aspx

    This debate was actually not about mining per se but about deep sea oil drilling and coal mining.

    It was very noticeable that the supporters of coal mining actively avoided any mention of climate change.

    Green Party Leader Russel Norman:

    “The International Energy Agency has said that if we want to avoid out of control climate change, more than 2 degrees, most of the existing oil and coal reserves have to stay in the ground. So it is grossly irresponsible to go and find more and start digging them up and releasing that carbon, because that means we’re giving our kids an out of control climate.”

    “The New Zealand government subsidises this business by about $50million dollars a year, for an industry that is going to discover reserves that all of the agencies are telling us we can’t afford to burn, if we take science seriously.” minutes

    Russel Norman went on to clearly state that Green Party Policy is; “NO NEW COAL MINES”

  6. The numbers they were working off were bullshit from day one and bathurst are typical exploiters – looking at the made-up positive numbers and disregarding any negative scenarios until whoops, reality hits them. Pack it up bathurst and slink off before denniston takes you all down is my advice.

  7. Jenny 7

    New Zealand used to once have a huge asbestos mining and manufacturing operation.

    The current problems being suffered by the New Zealand Coal industry reminds me of the dying days of the asbestos industry.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/9732526/Miners-feel-cool-coal-price

    The only difference is that the asbestos industry would not have been bailed out by government, as has happened here with the coal industry.

  8. Tracey 8

    Thanks for this thread.

    I am sorry to see that the issue focused threads are poorly attended these days, while the personality politics ones are well commented (including me and I apologise tot hose bothering to focus on issues).

    On the other hand it shows that political strategies that focus on personalities not issues get noticed.

    • Jenny 8.1

      “I am sorry to see that the issue focused threads are poorly attended these days….”

      Tracey

      It is all to do with leadership. Or more precisely, lack of leadership.

      Witness the huge furore created by Shane Jones over Countdown Supermarket supplier arrangements.

      The truth is that Labour support the strip mining of the Denniston Plateau for coal.

      That is why Denniston and all the corrupt dealings and it and the danger it poses is a non-issue.

      CANA is an NGO with little ability to influence events other than mounting protests and occupations.

      Labour have been silent over the issue of coal mining the Denniston Plateau, and the Greens whose official policy is “No New Coal Mines” have to be careful not offend Labour or ruin any chances of a coalition arrangement.

      I think Tracey that if Moana McKey or Phil Twyford came out against Bathurst Resources even half as strong as Shane Jones has come out against Countdown, a post on the issue would be one of the hottest debated and commented on ever.

      Instead what we get by mutual agreement is this;

      The Snake Swallows the Elephant in the Room and then Flogs the dead horse of Climate Change Politics, Elections 2011

      This is the ugly face of climate change politics in this country.

      • Jenny 8.1.1

        ;”…issue focused threads are poorly attended these days, while the personality politics ones are well commented (including me and I apologise tot hose bothering to focus on issues).”

        On the other hand it shows that political strategies that focus on personalities not issues get noticed.

        Tracey

        Russell Brown calls it the politics of absence. Brown says “cultivated political absence… shapes the almost unprecedented popularity of John Key”. John Key’s political success is because of this successful strategy of “de-politicising” himself. Key’s politics-free radio chat show was the perfect example.

        The media have largely just played along with the politics of absence. The election is analysed as a poll-driven horse race. Or a rugby game “of two halves” with “kicking for touch”. Who looked confident? Who had the best sound bites? Who mispronounced his/her New Zild the least or most. Restructure or “reeshrukcha”?

        The media have trivialised and objectified political debate. I give this example. The most discussed electoral contest in 2011 appears to be Auckland Central which the Herald calls “the battle of the babes” as the candidates, Jacinda Ardern and Nikki Kaye, are both relatively young women, whose Herald columns are called “Broadsides”. Do I need to say more?

        After the snake has swallowed the elephant in the room, the snake becomes the dead horse that needs some more flogging.

        Simon Johnson November 16, 2011

        Labour’s reluctance to talk about the Solid Energy Bail Out or climate change in general is an example of this politics of absence that Simon Johnson talks about.

        That this post came from an NGO and not the Greens is another example.

        And is another reason that this “issues” based post gets any attention.

  9. Jenny 9

    Australian Government study finds that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover over the last 27 years.

    http://www.aims.gov.au/latest-news/-/asset_publisher/MlU7/content/2-october-2012-the-great-barrier-reef-has-lost-half-of-its-coral-in-the-last-27-years.

    The study found that almost half of the damage was caused by storms. Storms of course are a natural occurrence from which the coral reefs slowly recover from, but the increasing frequency of storms has seen the reefs not getting the time to recover.

    The other big killer was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, blooms of which have been linked water quality.

    The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover in the last 27 years. The loss was due to storm damage (48%), crown of thorns starfish (42%), and bleaching (10%) according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville and the University of Wollongong.

    “The study shows the Reef has lost more than half its coral cover in 27 years. If the trend continued coral cover could halve again by 2022. Interestingly, the pattern of decline varies among regions. In the northern Great Barrier Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable, whereas in the southern regions we see the most dramatic loss of coral, particularly over the last decade when storms have devastated many reefs. “
    Dr Peter Doherty Research Fellow at AIMS

    The study clearly shows that three factors are overwhelmingly responsible for this loss of coral cover. Intense tropical cyclones have caused massive damage, primarily to reefs in the central and southern parts of the Reef, while population explosions of the coral-consuming Crown-of-thorns starfish have affected coral populations along the length of the Reef. Two severe coral bleaching events have also had major detrimental impacts in northern and central parts of the GBR.

    “Our data show that the reefs can regain their coral cover after such disturbances, but recovery takes 10-20 years. At present, the intervals between the disturbances are generally too short for full recovery and that’s causing the long-term losses,”
    Dr Hugh Sweatman

    Media contacts:

    Steve Clarke, AIMS Communication Manager, 07 4753 4264; 0419 668 497; s.clarke@aims.gov.au
    Niall Byrne, Science in Public, 0417 131 977, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

    • Jenny 9.1

      So what does the above comment about the Great Barrier Reef have to do with this post about Denniston?

      One of the big villains in the piece is Westpac

      From the above post:

      The other lesson here must be for Westpac, which has lent Bathurst $5m – more than half of its current cash reserves – which Bathurst may never be able to pay back. Westpac may be the first NZ company to demonstrate that financing fossil fuels is a loser.

      When you consider the damage this loan can do to Westpac’s reputation as the “most sustainable bank” with a big new lending programme to “Clean Tech,” what on earth is in it for them?

      Perhaps it’s better to quote someone else to finish up: Peter Huck in Friday’s NZ Herald, nails our view of Westpac’s loan to Bathurst, in light of its so-called sustainability claims:

      “However, critics see this as “sustainability lite”, rearranging the deckchairs as climate change worsens. Had Westpac – indeed, most companies and governments – factored in the daunting cost of adapting to rising seas, water shortages, damage to infrastructure, disruption of supply chains in the global economy and myriad other challenges posed by climate change?”

      A battle is brewing between environmentalists and investors over the imminent destruction of the Great Barrier Reef from coal mining activities and climate change. Westpac as well as funding Denniston has been flat out funding investment in coal mining on the Eastern Coast of Australian threatening the reef.

      Over Our Dead Bodies:

      http://overourdeadbodies.net/

      The largest coal mining complex in the world is very close to being developed in the Galilee Basin, in Queensland, Australia. It is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and a key project leading us to runaway climate change.

      Wespac involvement:

      “Since 2008, Westpac has loaned well over $1 billion to coal and gas export ports along Australia’s East Coast, many of them inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”

      http://www.marketforces.org.au/earth-to-westpac-divest/

      Last month Westpac was named the world’s most sustainable company!!! on top of Sustainable Business of the Year award they won in 2011.

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/9642320/Westpac-named-worlds-most-sustainable-firm

      How can Westpac with their involvement in one of the biggest single climate crimes of the 21st Century be considered the world’s most sustainable company?

  10. Jenny 10

    “Make the Switch from Westpac!”

    Coal Action Network Aotearoa

    CANA

    It’s 2014 and we’re launching a new phase to the Westpac Dump Coal campaign with 350.org where all of you Westpac customers get to switch to a bank that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels, and tell Westpac you’re doing this.

    Join other Westpac customers to make the switch April 7-12 2014

    SIGN UP TO MAKE THE SWITCH

    Our Step by Step Guide, HERE

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