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Australian bushfires slow coal production as hot and windy conditions set to return

21 January 2020

Australia’s largest mining company, BHP Group, has said that the poor air quality caused by the country’s bushfires in recent months has impacted coal production in the country. The mining giant said that smoke and dust had reduced air quality at its coal mines in New South Wales (NSW) so much that operations may be constrained further in the second half of 2020.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

Australia has been experiencing a particularly long bushfire season that has seen blazes across the south-east of the country that have killed at least 30 people, destroyed over 2,500 homes, and burnt 11 million hectares of land since September. The fires have been intensified by record high temperatures and a drought which have been linked to climate change.

Despite recent storms and heavy rainfalls, there are still more than 80 fires burning in NSW and Victoria. Reuters reports that both Australia’s tourism and insurance industries are already facing a A$1 billion ($687 million/£526 million) hit from the fires. Strong winds are now creating dust clouds that are blacking out the sky in parts of NSW. Officials are warning that hot and windy conditions are set to return in the next couple of weeks.

In a statement, BHP said that its machines were operating more slowly as a result of smoke and dust in the air and poor visibility. The statement also said many workers had to take leave to protect their properties and help in the fight against the bushfires.

BHP added that production of the company’s electricity-generating coal at one of its largest mines, the Mount Arthur site around 150 miles north of Sydney, was down by 11%. The company said, “We are monitoring the situation, and if air quality continues to deteriorate, then operations could be constrained further in the second half of the year.”

While the bushfires are one reason for the slowdown in coal production, BHP said it was also a result of mining higher-quality products. The company is investigating options to reduce its climate impact, but coal will remain a key part of its energy production mix.

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal with exports amounting to around A$67 billion per year.

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