The Environmental Protection Authority has signed off on a port expansion proposal for Bunbury that could lift coal exports to 15 million tonnes per year, almost double the current overall export capacity of the port.
Lanco Resources Australia, through its subsidiary Griffin Coal, has applied to construct and operate a facility within the inner harbour of Bunbury Port to meet an expected higher supply of coal from proposed expansions of Griffin Coal's operations in the Collie Basin.
Lanco Resources Australia is part of Lanco Infratech Limited, an Indian infrastructure company which acquired WA's oldest coal company, Griffin Coal, in 2011.
The port development at Berth 14A will include new transport facilities, a handling plant, a coal shed with capacity to stockpile six days worth of supplies and two ship berths.
In its proposal to the EPA, Lanco estimated that Griffin Coal can expand its Muja and Ewington operations, giving it the potential to produce up to 20mtpa. Lanco's submission said this was far beyond the local consumption requirements, with the company having identified an increased demand for sub-bituminous coal in Asia.
The Bunbury Port does not currently export coal from any of its existing berths, but the Bunbury Port Inner Harbour Structure Plan (IHSP) has identified Berth 14A for coal exports.
EPA Chairman Paul Vogel said the proposal is consistent with the Bunbury Port Authority’s Inner Harbour structure plan, which was currently being assessed separately by the EPA as a Strategic Proposal and aimed to guide future development and decision making within the Inner Harbour.
Dr Vogel said the construction of the berth pocket would involve the dredging of up to 1.9 million cubic metres of sediments. Dredge material would be deposited in Commonwealth waters subject to requirements of Australia’s Sea Dumping Act.
Western Australia’s peak environment group has called on the Barnett Government to rule out the export of coal from the port of Bunbury. “There are serious and fundamental concerns with any plans to expand coal mining in the Collie Region” said Conservation Council spokesperson Cameron Poustie.
Coal exports from Australia have been rising despite a sharp fall in prices due to slowing demand from important buyers like Japan, South Korea and China.Australia exports more than 80% of its coal output, and miners have continued to produce high volumes of the raw material - despite a significant squeeze on margins - after signing so-called "take or pay" contracts with rail and port operators.Coal producers agreed to long-term deals to lock in space at export terminals when the coal industry was booming, but it means they would now need to pay for access even if they were to cut production.Mining companies such as Glencore Xstrata and Yancoal have tried to sell excess port capacity, but Yancoal said it had so far had little luck attracting buyers.