New Buller coal mines could emit the CO2 of three million cars

Forest & Bird says that emissions resulting from potential new coal mines on the Buller plateau could put as much CO2 into the atmosphere as another 3 million cars on New Zealand’s roads for the next 20 years.

"These planned mines will be a disaster for the climate, as well as for the unique native species and habitats of the Buller plateau," says Forest & Bird Climate Advocate Adelia Hallett.

Earlier this month, Forest & Bird revealed secret mining plans for high value conservation land on the Buller plateau, being worked on by the Ministers of Conservation, Business, and Energy.

The conservation organisation has been informed by reliable sources that as much as 62 million tonnes of coal could be mined over 20 years, and has calculated that around 186 million tonnes of CO2 could be produced by burning this much coal.

Over the same 20 year period, 1.4 million tonnes of ‘fugitive emissions’ would be released directly into the atmosphere as the coal is mined.

"These mines would create a staggering amount of carbon dioxide. To put it another way, this is the equivalent of an extra 5 Huntly power stations, for the next 20 years," says Ms Hallett.

The coking coal is destined for steel manufacturing in developing countries.

"The Government will argue that this coal will be burnt in China or India, not here in New Zealand, and is therefore irrelevant to the climate change commitments they made in Paris."

"Try and tell that to the climate. No matter where the coal is burnt, it’s all taking us in the same direction - dangerous climate disruption," says Ms Hallett.

"Our wildlife is already experiencing the effects of a warming climate - from yellow eyed penguins and tuatara, to more frequent mast years and threats such myrtle rust. The last thing our already struggling native species need is runaway climate change."

Ms Hallett says it’s an absolute myth that coking coal for making steel is ‘cleaner’ than using coal for thermal heating.

"In steel making, coal is used to generate heat and the vast majority ends up in the atmosphere - only a small proportion is retained in the steel."

"We can do much better than this," says Ms Hallett. "Around the world, steel producers are making steel with electric furnaces."

"In addition we could be recycling vastly more steel than we currently do. Recycling steel is both cheaper and produces less carbon emissions."

"The Government should not be destroying our unique biodiversity, and our climate, simply to sweeten the deal for the new buyers of Solid Energy’s coal mining assets."

"In the 21st century, a responsible government would not be facilitating new coal mines."

Notes for journalists:

  • As much as 62 million tonnes of coal could be mined from new coal mines on the Buller plateau, over a 20 year period.
  • This could create around 187.4 million tonnes of CO2 over 20 years, including 1.4 million tonnes of fugitive emissions.
  • This averages 9.4 million tonnes a year. For comparison, New Zealand’s annual gross emissions are 81 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
  • 9.4 million tonnes a year equates to an extra 3 million cars on the road, or 5 Huntly coal fired power stations (the average family car emits 3 T per year, Huntly emits 2 M T a year).
  • Fugitive emissions - methane released as the coal seam is disturbed - have been calculated as CO2 equivalent, using the formula from Schedule 2 of the Climate Change (Stationary Energy and Industrial Processes) Regulations 2009.
  • Fugitive emissions will need to be accounted for, and paid for, by New Zealand.