As president of the Coal Association of Canada (CAC) and representing the broad spectrum of companies engaged in the exploration, development and transportation of coal, Ann Marie Hann has a unique window on the trends occurring in Canada’s coal industry.
When asked by Canadian Mining Journal about those trends, here’s what she said.
“I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing. Production and exports are on the rise, we’re seeing increased foreign investment, new coal mines are in development, and recent investments in rail and port infrastructure will make it easier for Canadian coal to reach foreign markets,” says President Hann.
“Coal is an important contributor to the Canadian economy. It is a direct and indirect employer of 30,000 people and a contributor of more than $1 billion to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product. It pays over $300 million annually in royalties to governments to support delivery of social programs such as health care, education and public infrastructure.”
To further support the value of the coal industry to Canada, in 2010, Canada produced 68 Mt of coal, an 8% increase, and exports grew over 22%. Almost all of the increase was attributed to the global demand for steel-making coal.
Canada’s high-quality and rich abundance of coal (almost 9 billion tonnes in proven reserves) is attracting foreign investment, particularly from Asia.
For example, in March, Xstrata sold a stake in its burgeoning Canadian steel-making coal operations to Japan’s JX Nippon (see following story), forming a joint venture with the Japanese oil refiner to build the business and market the coal in Japan.
In northern Alberta, two other Asian companies from Hong Kong and Japan also finalized the purchase of Grande Cache Coal, a metallurgical coal producer in Alberta.
To meet world demand, there are several new coal mines in various stages of development, including the Raven underground coal project located on Vancouver Island (see following story) and the Donkin Coal Project located in Nova Scotia.
Sherritt Coal also re-opened its mine in Obed, Alberta and Hillsborough Resources just received government approval to expand its Quinsam mine operations on Vancouver Island. Coalspur, a new entrant on the export thermal scene, also plans to develop a new property, the Vista Coal Project, in Alberta.
Over 90% of Canada’s coal deposits are located in western Canadian provinces, which provide a strategic advantage because of the closer proximity to Asian markets, and thankfully, governments and industry are stepping up to improve the efficiency and capacity of Canada’s western transportation network.
Last month, the B.C. government announced a planned investment of $700 million for transportation projects to help increase B.C. trade with Asia. Westshore, Neptune and Ridley terminals, located in Vancouver and Prince Rupert respectively, together will add an additional 20 million tonnes in handling capacity through $1 billion in investments.
On Canada’s east coast, Provincial Energy Venture announced plans to expand the bulk coal terminal in Sydney, Nova Scotia by three to five million tonnes. Thunder Bay Terminals, which handles mostly Western Canadian steelmaking coal for Great Lakes producers, is also developing as an alternate international shipping route.
Canada’s two major rail operators, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, are also making major efforts, including co-operation and track sharing, to keep Canada’s supply chain moving.
Combined, the two railways planned to spend almost $3 billion on infrastructure and fleet upgrades in 2011, a significant amount supporting coal shipments.
“The future of Canada’s export-based coal industry looks very positive. Domestically, however, the thermal coal industry is under serious threat,” says President Hann.
“Environment Canada’s draft regulations designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants will set strict performance standards for new coal-fired units and those that have reached the end of their useful life; and although the CAC supports the goal of reducing GHG emissions from power generation, we believe the regulations fall far short of striking the right balance between environmental, social and economic interests.
“The regulations as they stand will kill Canadian coal production for domestic thermal use, undermine Canada’s competitive power advantage and have a significant negative impact on many rural communities where thermal coal is mined.”
And, like many industries, another challenge in Canada is the increasing shortage of skilled people in the coal industry.
“The Mining Industry Human Resources Council estimates that the Canadian mining industry will need 100,000 new workers by 2020. Global demographic trends are hitting Canada and other countries hard and we’re going to have to focus on a mix of solutions to address our industry’s workforce needs,” says Hann.
Despite these challenges, evidence shows that the world is taking notice of the advantages of Canadian coal. Canada’s untapped coal resources, innovative companies and skilled workforce are part of a new value proposition for the coal industry in Canada. As the emerging economies of Asia increase their demand for all forms of coal, Canada is positioning itself to take advantage.
“The coal industry takes its social license to operate very seriously. We will continue to work with communities, First Nations, Canadian governments and other stakeholders to develop a world class coal industry in Canada,” concludes President Ann Marie Hann.