Projected impacts of climate changes on mining

Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and heat production in NSW are currently estimated at approximately 60 million tonnes p.a by the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System. This represents approximately 36.6% of all NSW emissions and 10.3% of total Australian greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal is the world's most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel source, and will remain so well into the future. At present approximately 23% of primary global energy needs are met by coal and 40% of electricity is generated from coal. About 70% of world steel production depends on coal feedstock.

In NSW about 90% of electricity needs are currently met from coal fired power stations. NSW coal fired power stations are located in the Sydney Basin close to significant coal resources in the Hunter, Central Coast and Western coalfield. NSW also obtains on average an additional 700 MW of coal fired electricity per annum from Queensland through the NSW-Queensland interconnector.

Black coal is also Australia’s biggest commodity export, generates significant GDP, and directly and indirectly employs many thousands of Australians. NSW coal production was valued at $8.5 billion in 2005/06. Coal is the largest mining sector in NSW and accounts for 73 percent of all mineral production in NSW. In 2005/6, 90 million tonnes of NSW coal were exported for a total value of $6.7 billion. NSW coal producers directly employ 12,600 people, and the industry creates significant rural and regional economic opportunities.

Climate change is unlikely to have a major direct impact on the mining industry, for which regulations and management strategies are already in place to manage factors such as water usage and environmental issues relating to rehabilitation. While a lack of access to water may affect some mining projects, most mining processes do not generally require potable water. Where high-quality water is required, some mines are already installing desalination units.

Changes in the frequency and intensity of storm events have the potential to impact on mining operations (e.g. tailing dams, sediment and erosion control); however, these impacts can normally be addressed as part of the mine’s water management plan.   

The highest risk to the mining industry from climate change is most likely to come from meeting growing community concerns over environmental issues. This is likely to increase the difficultly in obtaining approvals for mining projects (particularly for coal). Additional constraints on mining may also affect the economic viability of individual mines, leading to flow-on effects to communities, through job losses and a decline in regional revenue.  Work to develop clean coal technologies may ameliorate this risk to some extent; however, the actual process of mining is likely to face increasing community pressure.

Clean Coal technologies

The NSW Government is committed to reaching an interim target of year 2000 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020 and a long term target of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Clean Coal technologies in NSW will be a key factor in achieving this target and will help both Australia and NSW to adapt to a carbon constrained future. Such technologies include:

  • Pre and post carbon capture and storage technologies
  • New pollution control devices - like advanced scrubbers - that clean pollutants from flue gases before they exit a plant's smokestack
  • Chemical Looping combustion technology to concentrate CO2 levels in exhaust
  • Production of ultra clean coal which reduces ash from the coal allowing it to be directly fired in gas turbines at higher efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions
    Efficiency upgrades and co-firing with less greenhouse intensive fuels in coal fired power stations
  • Low – NOx  burners which allow coal-fired plants to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions
  • High temperature solar thermal applications integrated into coal fired power generation
  • Stack Gas Treatment - applied to gaseous emissions from Pulverised Fuel (PF) Combustion
  • Advanced Pulverised Fuel Combustion (PF)
  • Fluidised Bed Combustion (FBC)
  • Gasification and Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle Systems
  • Hybrid and advanced systems
  • Fuel cell technologies utilising gas from coal
  • Oxy-firing technology to raise the concentration of CO2 in flue gases to better enable its capture
  • Coal Gasification including underground gasification in situ
  • Capture and utilisation of fugitive emissions from coal mines.