The coal export industry is booming in Queensland, but not for the reasons the state and industry were expecting.
In fact, according to new research, the industry may have run out of coal to burn for decades.
It’s estimated that about 75 per cent of the coal exported to Australia comes from the Murray-Darling Basin.
The report, released this week by the University of Queensland’s Centre for Energy Economics, found the peak of coal exports occurred in the mid-2000s, after a boom in the mining sector and the arrival of cheaper natural gas and renewables.
It said that from 2005 to 2015, the state exported about one-third more coal than it did in the previous five years.
The mining boom has helped the coal industry recover in recent years, and the report found that by 2022 the boom was expected to have produced more than $2.5 billion in revenue for Queensland.
But as the industry continues to expand and the cost of mining coal continues to fall, the future for the Murray and Darling Basin is increasingly uncertain.
The University of New South Wales, where the research was conducted, said that the economic impacts of the boom could have been far greater if it had been a decade earlier.
“We’re looking at a period when the cost for extracting coal in Queensland is $5 per tonne and that is $2,000 per ton, so a lot of this coal is actually being extracted today,” Professor John Smith said.
“That’s not a small amount of coal at that point in time, and that’s a significant amount of carbon emissions.”
He said the research found the boom is also driving up emissions in the area.
“The peak coal export peak occurred around 2007 and 2008, so there was a large increase in emissions, and this was exacerbated by increased production, particularly in the Murray,” he said.
In the decade leading up to the peak, the average level of emissions in Queensland was 7.8 tonnes per day.
The peak of exports also coincided with an increase in carbon emissions, which were more than doubling in the next decade.
The research found that emissions from mining, and more specifically coal burning, grew by 8 per cent per year between 2008 and 2020.
The authors also found that coal production was increasing rapidly in Queensland between 2004 and 2016.
Between 2004 and 2015, coal production increased by a rate of about 10 per cent a year.
Coal exports also grew during this period.
Coal export volumes increased by 30 per cent over the same period, the report said.
However, as the mining boom continued to grow, the demand for coal dropped and it’s believed that the peak was caused by the decline in the prices of natural gas.
“While we don’t know for sure, there is a suggestion that the decline of prices has resulted in a decline in demand for thermal coal,” Professor Smith said, referring to coal that can be mined for electricity, gas and heating.
“It is likely that the price of thermal coal has been low because it is more expensive.”
The study also found the industry had also had a significant impact on local communities.
“We found that the Queensland mining boom caused a reduction in emissions at the regional and local level,” Professor David Geddes, who co-authored the study, said.
However, the study also pointed out that the boom may have also led to the introduction of climate change. “
This is something that has a significant environmental impact, and we think that is a good thing.”
However, the study also pointed out that the boom may have also led to the introduction of climate change.
“Some of the environmental effects of the Murray basin boom may be linked to the growth of climate-related impacts in the Barnett region,” Professor Gedds said.
Professor Smith and Professor Gettes have now published their findings in a paper in the journal Energy Economics.
“If we are to reduce our carbon emissions and make sure that we can sustainably develop our economy and continue to grow in the long-term, we have to do a better job of planning and managing the environment in the future,” Professor Johnson said.
He said that while the boom had helped Queensland recover, it would be wise to not forget about the environmental damage the boom has done.
“These kinds of economic booms are very costly,” Professor Jones said.