Joel Kirkland of ClimateWire
For most of the past decade, Australia's miners and the global mining conglomerates operating in the lush Hunter Valley region outside of Sydney and Newcastle could produce far more coal than they could ship.
"The restriction was not supply at the mines, but supply in the coal system to bring it down, whether it be the trains or tracks, or terminals or ports," Beale said. "If you go and ask all four of those players, you'll get four different answers about who was responsible."
Today, the joint owners of the NCIG terminal -- BHP Billiton, U.S.-based Peabody Energy, China's Yancoal Australia (through its subsidiary Felix Resources), Centennial Coal, Donaldson Coal and Whitehaven Coal -- are negotiating with coal buyers alongside other competitors for leverage in the Asia-Pacific coal market.
St. Louis, Mo.-based Peabody uses the term "coal super cycle" to describe what's happening in Asia. In a November presentation, ahead of a tour Peabody gave of its Australian assets for analysts and investors, the miner said it anticipates at least 1 billion metric tons of new global coal demand by 2015.
Asia's developing economies, according to Peabody, represent 90 percent of long-term global coal demand growth.
China, itself a major coal producer, imported 126 million metric tons of coal in 2009, tripling its coal imports in 2008 and signaling to some that the "super cycle" is in full swing. India has also increased its coal imports, especially Australian steel-making coal, or coking coal.
Nick Otter, chief executive of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, said the need to cut carbon emissions tied to climate change rightly thrusts emissions-intensive coal burning in China and India into the spotlight.
"They're on a razor's edge. They have to do both. They have to maintain their economic growth," he said. "You'll see more nuclear and renewables. In real tonnage, coal will probably go up."