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COAL:

Asia's exploding economic growth churns Australia's coal industry

NEWCASTLE, Australia -- Asia's demand for coal usually spikes around Christmas, and there's ample evidence of that this year in this sunny port city some 4,000 nautical miles from China.

Ships were lined up in the mists offshore earlier this month for entry into the Port of Newcastle. Here, coal tankers the size of several American football fields nudge up to the docks, load up and head back to fire up East Asia's roaring economies. At Newcastle's terminals, and at other ports dotted along Australia's eastern coast, the story is the same.

Longer-term deals to supply China and India's needs for coal are under serious discussion, and Australia is lining up the infrastructure investments to handle it.

"It's fair to say demand is still strong, even though there's more coal coming on the market," said Paul Beale, general manager of the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG). "You wouldn't say we're moving toward oversupply."

In late November and for much of December, Newcastle and other ports along the coast were hit with Australia's rainiest period in years. The severe weather has destroyed crop yields and shattered a decadelong drought that intensified the political debate about climate change.

Still, the boat-in and boat-out, 24-hour-a-day process of shipping coal to Japan, South Korea, China and India hasn't slowed much, even as flooding along the coast caused delays at mines in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.

Beale runs the third coal export terminal at the Port of Newcastle. It started operating in May, and already, an expansion is under way that will increase terminal capacity to 53 million metric tons of coal. Feasibility studies about expanding the export capacity further sit on boardroom tables at the six coal companies that together own the terminal.

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About This Report

Much of the world’s attention on how to deal with climate change is drawn to demands of environmental groups and deliberations in places like Washington and Copenhagen. But the outcomes of these debates are often shaped by the political and economic clout of “coal country,” the states and nations whose economies depend upon coal. “Coal country” is an occasional series that visits these states and nations where coal is on the economic or political agenda and shows through the stories of projects and people why this most problematic fossil fuel is not likely to be phased out anytime soon.

Previous Stories

NATIONS:

Coal-rich Australia grapples with a price on carbon and China's money

SYDNEY -- Earlier this month, as Sydney's financial district hummed during the early-morning rush hour, Greenpeace activists unfurled a banner outside of ANZ Bank that read, "ANZ Polluting Your World." It sought to saddle the bank with a bad reputation for financing large coal-fired power projects, and put the nearby Reserve Bank of Australia on notice that public investment in projects that expand coal's role in the economy is just as unacceptable.

TECHNOLOGY:

From Star Wars to carbon capture -- do fairy tales come true?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- This will be the winter of discontent for many owners of the nation's coal-fired electrical utilities. There is no clear federal policy on what climate regulations might be in place five or 10 years from now. But some of these owners will have to bet on one because they face multimillion-dollar decisions now about closing old power plants and building new ones. The process takes years. In 2007, Drew Rankin got his first call from a local inventor. The man said he understood the problems Rankin was facing as general manager of this city's two coal-fired power plants. The inventor claimed he had made a breakthrough: a radically improved "scrubber" that could remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

COAL COUNTRY:

W. Va. ponders its mining future amid hills and valleys of climate debate

DANVILLE, W.Va. -- On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in March, the residents of this hilly town are spending another day living off coal. Fred Byrnside, the local hardware store owner, is selling equipment to coal workers wearing heavy boots covered in soot. Down the street in adjacent Madison, W.Va, 70-year-old Tony Young flips grilled-cheese sandwiches for miners at the West Madison Grocery.

CARBON CAPTURE:

Europe's climate plans collide with 'NUMBY'

BARENDRECHT, Netherlands -- Everything seemed set for the first large Dutch experiment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) last year. The engineering seemed simple enough, piping 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from a Royal Dutch Shell PLC oil refinery in Rotterdam 15 miles to this middle-class suburb (population 50,000). Here, it would be pumped deep underground into an empty natural gas reservoir. The financing was ready. Shell had a €30 million government subsidy to do the work. The technical planning was done. Out of 12 sites studied, this one ranked in the top two that experts found most trouble-free. And the need was obvious. The Dutch were part of a European Commission plan to spend €1 billion to fight climate change by injecting the greenhouse gas emissions from Europe's refineries and coal-fired power plants into selected geological formations.

CARBON CAPTURE:

Wyo.'s crash program to develop 'green' coal

CASPER, Wyo. -- In the summer of 2008, Wyoming's governor, Dave Freudenthal, went to California for meetings with state officials and utility executives. What he brought was, quite literally, a burning question. California was in the throes of putting together the nation's first cap on greenhouse gases, and it appeared that if a Democrat were elected president, there might soon be a federal law, as well. At stake was Wyoming's biggest industry -- coal production. Wyoming lawmakers worried that California would lead the nation to impose a ban on imports of out-of-state electricity if it were produced by coal-fired power plants.

CARBON CAPTURE:

Wyo. wants more carbon dioxide

MIDWEST, Wyo. -- Eight years ago, the Salt Creek oil field here was pretty much played out. It was a forest of rusting oil rigs, immobile pump jacks and a tangle of electric lines that powered them. Every day, Salt Creek was using more energy to extract less oil out of the ground. There were estimates that this century-old field -- once one of the richest in the Rockies -- would be out of business by 2015.

NATIONS:

India's future energy business plan -- shop the world for more coal

BOKARO, India -- The men who work at Bokaro Steel City (there are few women) behave as though they are in the Wild West. Some are slick and charming with their words. They stand in air filled with fine coal dust that gets into every crevice of the skin and upper respiratory system, while saying that the dust filters are 99.9 percent efficient. Others, such as the gun-toting security guards, are silent and watchful. They need to be, in order to cope with the pressures that are unique to Jharkhand, India's richest coal state.

INDIA:

A roaring economy is hitched to a galloping addiction to coal

JHARIA, India -- Night falls here by 5 p.m. and people stream into the open-air market. They have much to discuss, because elections are currently on in the state of Jharkhand, which is famous for three things: corruption, a home-grown terrorism threat called Naxalism, and this area's economic life, which is marked in every imaginable way by coal. Coal-fired electricity lights a single incandescent bulb in each shop, and the combined yellow glow gives the market a festive air. Underneath this town, the earth is burning.

POLITICS:

'Coal Country' poses the biggest obstacle in Senate climate debate

When Columbia University sociologist Dana Fisher investigated how U.S. senators lined up on a 2008 climate bill, one factor outside of party affiliation topped all others in predicting their vote. The "no" votes were more likely to come from coal states. Now, there is a Democratic majority in Congress and a somewhat different bill on the table than the one that collapsed last year, but Fisher said the political dynamics are largely the same.