Blog | 22nd Oct, 2012

Victorian brown coal exports - pipedream or nightmare?

Successive Victorian Governments have eyed Victoria’s brown coal resources and seen a bonanza in waiting. With the world’s second largest brown coal deposit, with an estimated resource of 430 billion tonnes, it’s perhaps not surprising governments see dollar signs and forget about the local and global impacts of new mines.

Even in recent years, as concern about global warming has grown, governments have on the one hand talked about reducing emissions, and on the other about developing the coal resource.

However under the Baillieu Government in Victoria plans to open up the coal resource have accelerated dramatically. Since they were elected a little over 18 months ago, a new exploration licence has been granted every 6 days (on average). This compares with a 20 year average of one exploration licence every month for the state.

But it’s in the Latrobe Valley where the State Government is making its big move to develop the coal resource with its plans to allocate up to 13 billion tonnes of brown coal in late 2012 or early 2013.

The last time coal was allocated in Victoria was in 2002, when 3 companies received a total of 17 billion tonnes to build so-called ‘clean coal’ projects. None of these projects materialized and the allocation was a complete flop (for more history, visit sourcewatch)

And yet the Victorian Government now wants to do it all over again.

If these plans come to fruition they will result in local environmental damage where mines are located, impacts on rivers and groundwater, loss of productive farmland, loss of mangroves and seagrass in proposed port locations and health impacts on local communities.

But it’s when you do the numbers that you realise that this is a big deal for the climate. Assuming the Victorian Government proceeds with its reckless coal allocation plans by mid next year 41 billion tonnes of Victorian coal will have been allocated to a handful of companies.

If that 33 billion tonnes of brown coal was burnt in conventional power stations it would produce 32 billion tonnes of emissions equivalent to:

  • 268 years’ worth of Victoria’s emissions
  • 59 years’ worth of Australia’s annual emissions
  • 20 years’ worth of India’s emissions
  • 6 years’ worth of the US’s emissions
  • 4 years’ worth of China’s emissions

This is a foolish plan with dangerous consequences. That many of the project proponents have never developed a commercial project in their lives should give some comfort that these projects may take many years to materialise.

But it’s at this early stage, before the genie is out of the bottle, that we have our best chance of ensuring that Victoria, and Australia is part of the solution, rather than problem when it comes to tackling climate change. The sooner we realise that the Latrobe Valley’s coal needs to stay in the ground the better, both for the climate and for local communities trying to plan for the future.

This article was originally published in Sunrise Project here >

Read our report on Victoria’s brown coal export industry

Read our media release