PNG, a coal producer?

The National, Monday July 11th, 2016

KAVIENG MP and Minister for Petroleum and Energy Ben Micah floated an idea last week that could add to Papua New Guinea’s earning potential in the non-renewable fuels sector.
He says the country has immense potential for coal production although the idea may not be popular with conservationists.
Micah based his comments on evidence of deposits on coal deposits in three provinces all of whom share a common land border: Southern Highlands, Gulf and Western Highlands.
With Government debt building up to all time highs and the state being forced to tighten the purse strings the possibilities a new and viable source of fuel offers cannot be ignored.
“It is there, discovered, and is one of those resources that we will need to look at in terms of its energy potential and also export revenue potential,” Micah said.
According to last week’s report, coal is one of the unconventional hydrocarbons the Government is looking at to allow for shale gas exploration and production.
First of all what is coal and just how widely used is it. Coal is extracted from the ground by coal mining.
It is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams.
Coal is composed primarily of carbon along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen.
Throughout history, coal has been used as an energy resource, primarily burned for the production of electricity and/or heat, and is also used for industrial purposes, such as refining metals.
Coal is the largest source of energy for the generation of electricity worldwide, as well as one of the largest worldwide anthropogenic (caused by humans) sources of carbon dioxide releases.
The extraction of coal, its use in energy production and its by-products are all associated with environmental and health effects including climate change.
Micah said the Government was aware of the negative aspects of coal extraction and its use in industry. “As you know, coal is a four-letter word now in the environmental language, so we will need to decide in line with our commitment to the environment as to how we will develop this resource.”
As in the case of deep sea mining, PNG is expected to explore all possibilities available in the resource industry, with oil and gas already big money earners for the state. Since 1983, the world’s top coal producer has been China.
In 2011 China produced 3520 million tonnes of coal – 49.5 per cent of 7,695 million tonnes world coal production. In 2011 other large producers were United States (993 million tonnes), India (589), European Union (576) and Australia (416). In 2010 the largest exporters were Australia with 328 million tonnes (27.1 per cent of world coal export) and Indonesia with 316 million tonnes (26.1 per cent), while the largest importers were Japan with 207 million tonnes (17.5 per cent of world coal import), China with 195 million tonnes (16.6 per cent) and South Korea with 126 million tonnes (10.7 per cent). It is clear that aside from domestic consumption particularly in power generation, the production of coal in PNG would prove viable and lucrative considering the biggest importers of coal are located in the Asia-Pacific region.
But there are negative impacts associated with the coal industry chief among them the damage to the environment.  Coal mining and coal fueling of power station and industrial processes can cause major environmental damage with air and water pollution and the degradation of land. Water systems are affected by coal mining coal. For example, mining affects with groundwater and water table levels and acidity. Spills of fly ash can also contaminate land and waterways, and destroy homes. Power stations that burn coal also consume large quantities of water. This can affect the flows of rivers, and has consequential impacts on other land uses. The health effects on people directly involved in the extraction process as well as on those communities in close proximity to mines and processing plants are worrying to say the least.
Unlike the other “cleaner” hydrocarbons, coal extraction and processing as well as burning for energy generation are wrought with risks. The question the state needs to be asking itself when considering coal industry development is: Have we reached that stage where coal is a reasonable and viable choice?
After selling our oil and gas resources, do we still need to seriously consider coal extraction and production as a means to an end?