Newcastle’s T4 coal terminal could be shelved

Port Waratah Coal Services may shelve plans for the controversial T4 coal loader on Kooragang Island due to the recent coal slump.

Port Waratah Coal Services chief executive Hennie du Plooy told reporters at a vineyards coal conference on Tuesday that due to falling demand, the company was instead looking to expand its existing loader on the island instead.

Du Plooy said the approvals process had added another year to the project, with T4 unlikely to gain approval before 2014, The Newcastle Herald reported.

This means construction would take another three years, with the original operating date being pushed back 2018.

In 2009, Port Waratah was given the opportunity to build a new coal loading terminal, known as Terminal 4 (or T4), as part of a wider long term agreement to service the Hunter's growing coal industry.

This was in addition to the two it already operates – the Carrington and Kooragang Coal Terminals. In 2010 the company began planning the export site's development.

However late last year, the company cut the capacity of the T4 coal loader by nearly two-thirds to just 25 million tonnes a year.

The cut came after PWCS said coal companies advised they no longer expected to ship as much coal.

At the time, Du Plooy said the company had originally planned to build a capacity of 70million tonnes, but T4’s first stage would now only handle 25 million tonnes.

Du Plooy told the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy conference on Tuesday that coal companies were shipping 20 per cent less coal now than when the deal was struck to build the T4.

Last year they shipped less than 106million tonnes and are predicted to do 110million this year.

Du Plooy said a final decision on whether T4 will be built, or expanding the existing terminal had not been made.

‘‘I haven’t made a judgment about which one is more likely.

‘‘As we get clarity on what the real capacity shortfall is – and, importantly, when any additional capacity can actually get through the coal chain – we will make a call on which is more likely.

‘‘There are certain levels of capacity shortfall we would be able to meet through the existing terminals but clearly if it was significant then the new terminal would end up being more likely,’’ Du Plooy said. 

The loader has been a contentious issue for Newcastle, drawing criticism from environmental groups, particularly over its dust management claims.

Du Plooy said PWCS and T4 had become ‘‘a focal point’’ for coal protesters.

In early March, The Greens called on the Senate to block the construction of a fourth coal terminal at Kooragang Island amid growing public health concerns.

Senator Lee Rhiannon told the Newcastle Herald that although her notice of motion was not successful, she was determined to stop the terminal being built.

‘‘Last week’s shocking air pollution results along the Hunter rail corridor should be enough to finally push Labor and Coalition MPs to standing up to coal expansion,’’ she said.

‘‘It is not enough for them to furrow their brows and make concerned noises about the health impact on locals.’’

The Coal Terminal Action Group (CTAG) said they want the government to stop its assessment of the T4 coal terminal until a dust pollution test was carried out along Hunter’s coal corridor.

Late last year the group handed out 15,000 leaflets to local residents in a bid to stop the new terminal from going ahead.

"This is the biggest decision affecting our quality of life in Newcastle,’’ CTAG spokeswoman Cathy Burgess said.

‘‘A fourth coal terminal will have irreversible impacts on the health of our children and the air we breathe, so we’re letting the people of Newcastle know who is responsible for this important decision."

Image: austphotography.com

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