the mine is uneconomic now, but may not be in the future. If you’re in EA you have to look at the future no? You’re trying to play the long term game right ?
you can pay a billion dollars and stop an operating mine from producing 10 million tonnes of coal a year for 30 years, or you can pay 10 million dollars to prevent an currently uneconomic mine with a billion tonnes of reserves from ever being built. I mean at some number/ratio of costs it makes sense correct ? Or are you of the opinion that regardless of costs you are only interested in currently produced coal
I reiterate that uneconomic mines don’t have reclamation expenses because they have never been exploited. The land has not yet been disturbed by mining.
there are surely better ways to use the money. Sure. That’s the point of this debate correct? Is it a good use of money ? And that depends on a) How much money? And b) produced how much good? You offered a big money (economic mine takeover) big and certain good (immediate stopping of mining). I’m just offering a small money (uneconomic mines) smaller and less certain good (less future production). At some level maybe the balance of the two works for someone.
I’m not saying they legal barriers don’t matter. I’m saying that they can be overcome. Including by doing things which are standard for corporations but not usually done by NGOs. For eg fairly easy to imagine a billionaire funding a group of actual coal mining executives to buy up uneconomic mines, put out great plans to develop them, on the side fund someone to sue the company saying it hasn’t met it’s obligations, go into long legal issues, and delay development indefinitely. I mean think like Peter Thiel. Of course this also means you gotta look like an actual miner and you can’t have PR saying you’re doing EA. I would in fact say that the legal barriers to mine development are greater than the legal barriers to mine non development. Yet mining executives put up with great barriers and risks of expropriation to do business in a lot of shady jurisdictions. The EA community should decide what it values and then put in the blood, sweat, tears and money to get it done.
Tempest Williams is instructive. She was successful in purchasing a lease. It was cheap. She paid 1.50 an acre, so 1,120 acres cost her $2,500. She then didn’t make “reasonable efforts” to exploit. She could have just hired a team to make those reasonable efforts, which could literally be “I walked around to see if there was oil today, and there was none” and then write a report. I mean it’s all just useless paperwork and filings. Just work the bureacracy and pay the bare minimum fees. I think what kills every environmentalist effort is that the actual project is just an effort to draw attention to the problem rather than an effort to fix the issue. So Tempest Williams spent 2,500 bucks but got millions of dollars of earned media exposure plus a book deal and clout for what she did. And that was way more valuable for her than shutting in 1,120 acres of exploration claims. I’m just saying you can actually execute on this, it’s not particularly hard BUT you have to actually EXECUTE, meaning hire lawyers, accountants, engineers, tax counsel, raise money, deploy, and manage regulated assets over a long period of time.
I don’t think I’m refuting much in your post besides the clear factual errors (land acreage use, reclamation fees on undeveloped claims etc). There is a fundamental cost benefit focus area that we differ on. Specifically i believe the “Buy coal mines” idea in EA was recently popularized by Alex Tabarrok, amongst others.
“ Indeed, you could buy the right to mine costly-to-exploit coal deposits–those deposits are cheap (since they are costly to exploit) and by taking them off the market you are making the supply curve even more inelastic so you aren’t encouraging much additional supply. ”
So my focus area is specifically on the cost benefit of uneconomic coal, which is also exactly what your write up does not focus on.
You came to a negative conclusion on “Should we buy coal mines” focusing on one segment (economic coal
mines) without considering the other… and I’m guessing perhaps being unaware of the previous recent intellectual discussion in the EA community on uneconomic coal mines ? Is that so ?
I mean do you have any response to Alex ?
A number of comments:
Alex Tabarrok’s initial idea was about buying cheap mines, ie mines which are currently uneconomic to produce but could become economic in the future, thereby creating the opportunity to shut in future capacity. When you price off the top 30 US coal mines you are pricing current cash flow producers, so yes you need to pay 3-5x cash flow multiple. If you price off uneconomic mines you can buy billion tonnes in the group for between 10-100 million dollars. Far cheaper.
There is a difference between mine acreage and reclamation area. In a typical open cut mine as little as 10% of the land area is mined. In a typical underground mine it is as little as 2%. So much less land needs to be reclaimed than your calculation which was based on the entire acreage. Also, again if you purchase uneconomic mines, they are typically not developed, so you don’t have to reclaim anything. If you purchase on operating mine, many have some form of reclamation reserve fund that you will have access to and many also perform continuing reclamation (No govt will allow a mine not to reclaim even a little bit if it’s been years since the original mining of the area)
Legal barriers are high - not sure what was the purpose of this para. Yes? And so? For uneconomic mines, no govt will force you to mine. You can buy it and file a plan every year saying you continue or do technical work while waiting for prices to go up. You do need a skeleton technical team to manage paperwork and reporting. Hey, it’s a regulated sector. For economic mines, you can slow walk process. There’s millions of ways. As long as you don’t come out and explicitly say you’re forever going to sit there and not mine, you should be fine.
political risk - and so? As long as you respect the commercial contracts and legal policies in place, hire the necessary technical team and produce the paperwork required, I don’t see any political risk EXCEPT if you explicitly market as total and permanent shut in.
X) you don’t seem to have any knowledge of the industry. Let me tell it to you straight, commodity traders will shut in coal capacity if they get paid to do it. There’s no romance in the industry. If the mine is more valuable to the EA community as sequestered carbon than it is to coal mine owners as cash producing assets, they will sell it, shut it in, and politically lobby to make sure you can keep it shut in.
Alex’s original idea focused on NON ECONOMIC coal. As you point out there are carrying costs. So someone sitting on a billion tonnes of coal, on 10,000 acres probably pays lease fees of 500k per year. If the coal is mineable at 50 bucks as ton, and market price today is 25 bucks, the guy is eating a negative carry of 500k as real call option premium on higher coal prices. He’ll sit there waiting for prices to hit 75 bucks a ton and when they do he’ll try to producer
When you buy the mine from him, you’re eliminating his cost of premium but you have to pay him for the value of the option.