Insurance giant slammed for ‘hypocrisy’ over coal project

ONE of the world's biggest insurance giants was pilloried this week for what critics claim is gross hypocrisy playing out in Queensland's coal sector.

Boston-based Liberty Mutual, the third biggest property and casualty insurer in the US, joined other players in the industry when it announced last year that it would no longer provide coverage for Adani's deeply polarising Carmichael mega-mine.

But that apparent nod to global warming concerns hasn't stopped a Liberty subsidiary, Brisbane-based Mount Ramsay Coal Company, from pushing ahead with plans for a dramatic expansion of its flagship Baralaba North coal mine about 120 km southwest of Rockhampton.

Baralaba North coal mine
Baralaba North coal mine

The firm, which is in the process of jumping through the usual regulatory hurdles, hopes to double production when it opens the Baralaba South mine in 2022.

If all goes to plan, the greenfield site will become an open-cut mine set to yield as much as 5 million tonnes annually for up to 40 years.

NOT HAPPY

Plenty of the locals, though, such as seasoned grazier Brett Coombe and fourth-generation farmer Paul Stephenson, are less than enthused by that prospect. They have joined greenie activists in slamming the idea.

"We're opposed to this mine because it will be built on a flood-plain next to the Dawson River on prime agricultural land,'' Coombe said.

Paul Stephenson, critic of the proposed Baralaba South mining project in north Queensland,
Paul Stephenson, critic of the proposed Baralaba South mining project in north Queensland,

"It will threaten the quality of the water supply for Baralaba and all systems downstream including the Great Barrier Reef. The company also wants to put up a levy bank that will flood country that has never flooded before.''

The fears are not unfounded, as previous owners of the existing mine oversaw a levee break 10 years ago which resulted in toxic waste waters getting released into the river system.

GROWING DISTANT

LIBERTY'S move to ramp up production at Baralaba is all the more surprising since it has very publicly joined other big corporates in distancing itself from fossil fuels.

Last year it pledged to make no new investments in debt or equity securities of companies that generate more than a quarter of their revenues from thermal coal mining. It has also vowed to make no additional direct investment in the coal industry whatsoever.

So how to reconcile these apparently disparate actions?

It seems that Liberty's plan to grow Baralaba predate its new-found environmental commitments. A Liberty spin doctor also noted that coal mines comprise a tiny percentage of the group's investments.

None of this placated Stephenson, who accused Liberty of hypocrisy and urged it to scrap the project.

GOOD AS GOLD

SPEAKING of mining, Brisbane minnow Laneway Resources has flagged plans to crank up its gold hunting efforts in north Queensland just as prices for the precious metal continue their upward trajectory.

The company, chaired by veteran coal seam gas player Steve Bizzell, announced this week that it would start digging for the glittering stuff at its Agate Creek site in August.

Laneway was last active there in the six months to September last year, when it first secured the mining lease and the price of gold was quite a bit lower.

Steve Bizzell
Steve Bizzell

The influx of cash will help bankroll further exploration efforts at the site, as well as work at Laneway's Ashford Coking Coal Project in NSW and gold mining in NZ.

The company reported a $2.22 million net profit in the half-year to December, a respectable bounce back from the $617,000 net loss it suffered in the same period a year earlier.

But Laneway still has a long way before it reaches critical mass. Floated in 1987, it has amassed nearly $115 million in accumulated losses and the share price remains stuck in the doldrums at a mere .008 cents.

Bizzell, an investment banker, previously founded Bow Energy and built up the company to the point that Arrow Energy snared it for $550 million in 2011. He also formerly headed Arrow before Shell gobbled it up.


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