Coal’s inexorable decline: a mine worth millions is sold for a dollar

Coal prices are plummeting and cases of extractive companies filing for bankruptcy are on the rise. The case of an Australian mine.

The collapse in coal prices is real. The “Isaac Plains” coking coal mine in Australia, valued at 860 Australian dollars (about $631 million) three years ago has been sold for $1. According to Bloomberg, the Brazilian mining group Vale SA and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. offloaded the “Isaac Plains” mine for just $1, selling it to Australian firm Stanmore Coal Ltd., based in Brisbane. Sumitomo bought its 50% share of the business in 2012 for 430 million Australian dollars.




The new owner says the site holds an estimated 30 million metric tonnes of coal and that it is willing to invest $22.5 million to resume operations there.


“The outlook for coal is still very difficult,” said Roger Downey, Vale’s executive director for fertilizers and coal, after the sale was announced. “We see even in Australia mines that are still in the red and at some point that has to change. We have quite adverse and challenging markets.”




Mining activities began at Isaac Plains in 2006 but were halted last year when the mine shut down. At its peak, production reached as much as 2.8 million metric tonnes a year, with the coal being sold to steel producers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.


The drop in prices of both coal burnt in power stations and coking coal – used in steelmaking – is forcing mines around the world to close and is bankrupting some producers. In the last three years about 30 coal producing U.S. companies have declared bankruptcy, seven in the last year alone. Among these is Alpha Natural Resources Inc., number two coal producer in the U.S., which has filed for bankruptcy protection. The coal industry is suffering heavy losses even in Asia. Indonesia, the world’s biggest exporter of thermal coal, has reined back production as a result of low prices. So has Australia, number one global exporter of coal for steel production. One of the factors behind the drop in prices is energy policies that halt the use of coal for power generation because of its high emissions, the principal cause of climate change.


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