Glencore will keep selling coal while there's a profitable market but two of its Hunter mines facing closure

FINITE LIFE: The pit-top at Integra underground near Singleton, scheduled to close along with the Liddell open-cut in 2023. Picture: Glencore

FINITE LIFE: The pit-top at Integra underground near Singleton, scheduled to close along with the Liddell open-cut in 2023. Picture: Glencore

MINING giant Glencore has unveiled plans to shut its Liddell open-cut and Integra underground mines in 2023 in what it describes as a "Paris Agreement aligned strategy to align the Swiss-based company with the "transition to a low carbon economy".

A Glencore Australia spokesperson said Liddell had a workforce of 397 at present, with Integra employing 270 people.

The planned closures of the two Hunter mines were disclosed in a webcast presentation to investors starting 1pm Friday London time (midnight Friday here) that was overshadowed by Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg announcing he was stepping down next year, having run the company since 2002.

A third Hunter mine mine, Glendell open-cut, was also listed in the online presentation as shutting in 2023, along with the Newlands mine in Queensland.

But the Glencore Australia spokesperson said the company wanted Glendell, with a workforce of 340, to stay open.

The spokesperson said Glendell's mining licence was due to expire in 2023: the company had lodged its application for a 20-year life extension last year. If Glendell's "continued operations project" was approved by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), the mine would be able to continue operations until 2044.

As well, the United Wambo joint venture with Peabody had begun operating, adding another 250 jobs.

The spokesperson said the workforces had been told of the decisions but it was too early to talk about redeployment to other sites as an alternative to retrenchment.

The coal industry is regularly criticised for not facing up to climate change, but the Glencore spokesperson said the closures were part of a strategy that aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent over the next 15 years, with the aim of net zero emissions by 2050.

Both targets included so-called "Scope 3" emissions - the greenhouse gasses created when Glencore's customers use its products. The company confirmed that most of its emissions came from coal, and that most of those emissions were Scope 3.

However the Glencore spokesperson said the company was also working to cut mining emissions. Its efforts were outlined in annual sustainability reports. One example was collecting the methane "vented" from underground mines for safety reasons and using it to generate electricity, rather than simply burning or "flaring" it to the atmosphere.

Overall, though, the plan to cut CO2 emissions depended to a substantial degree on selling less coal.

Globally, Glencore reported producing 139.5 million tonnes of coal last year: the investor update predicts a 2020 output of 109 million tonnes, plus or minus three million tonnes.

DEPLETION: A page from Friday's presentation listing Integra, Liddell and Glendell as closing. In fact, Glendell is the subject of a 20-year licence extension application.

DEPLETION: A page from Friday's presentation listing Integra, Liddell and Glendell as closing. In fact, Glendell is the subject of a 20-year licence extension application.

In August, when Glencore announced brief shutdowns at its Hunter and Queensland mines, it said it wanted to cut seven million tonnes from last year's Australian total of 119 million tonnes.

During Friday's presentation, Glencore said it was "unique" among its mining company peers in including Scope 3 emissions in its "Paris Agreement-aligned reduction targets".

Referring to what the company said was a "responsible stewardship of declining coal business over time as industry decarbonises", Mr Glasenberg said: "Glencore has indicated that while there is demand for coal, and it is economic to do so, we will continue to operate our mines until they reach the end of their lives.

"Glencore will oversee a managed decline of its coal business. As our assets in Colombia and South Africa come to the end of their economic lives, our Australian business is expected to continue to supply the high quality coal required to meet ongoing global steel production and energy demand."

Responding to Friday's presentation, CFMMEU northern district mining division president Peter Jordan said the closures of Liddell and Integra had been "flagged for some time".

"We understood that the enterprise agreement we negotiated at Integra last year would be the final one and we are currently negotiating an agreement at Liddell which will similarly see the project out," Mr Jordan said.

"Glencore remains a major northern district producer and with extensions pending at Mangoola and Glendell and production ramping up at United Wambo we anticipate thaose affected by future closures will find work at other Glencore operations.

"Meanwhile, with economic volatility affecting global coal demand, we support temporary Christmas shutdowns to protect jobs."

The Glencore spokesperson said that after the group-wide shutdowns during September and October to reduce production in an effort to help lift prices, any Christmas shutdowns would be up to individual site management.

The latest Australian Coal Report shows spot prices for one-off cargoes out of Newcastle have lifted in recent weeks, with 6000-kilocalorie coal going from $US54.41 in October ($76.63 at the exchange rate at the time) to $US65.29 ($89.43) in late November. Although slightly higher than the November 2019 price of $US64.23, a weaker $A at the time converted that price to $94.45.

SITUATION CHANGING: A page from Friday's Glencore investor update setting out the general situation for the company's coal assets.

SITUATION CHANGING: A page from Friday's Glencore investor update setting out the general situation for the company's coal assets.