AN IPSWICH coal mining company that last year suffered one of the industry's worst financial downturns in 10 years has almost doubled its earnings.
This year New Hope Group recorded cash earnings for the first quarter at $40 million compared to $26.2 million in the same period last year.
That's off the back of an significant increase in coal prices which have hit near record levels following a downturn that sent shockwaves through regional Queensland, saw thousands lose their jobs leading to a mass exodus in mining towns.
In April this year, the price per tonne of thermal coal fell as low as $70. That's now lifted to just under $140.
For more than 1000 workers in the region that change has offered job security, but the positive trend could be short-lived.
There are two key factors affecting New Hope's future; one is the global supply of thermal coal, largely controlled by China - the world's largest producer and consumer of thermal coal.
The other is the drawn out decision over the expansion of Acland mine.
For six years the courts have been debating whether New Hope should be allowed to push forward with Acland Stage 3, following their first Environmental Impact Assessment in 2010.
Now it's crunch time.
In a year and a half coal at New Hope's active mine Acland Stage 2, opened in 2007, will run out, the company's managing director Shane Stephan says.
There is no "back-up plan" and Mr Stephan says if Acland Stage 3 isn't approved by early next year about 800 jobs will be on the line, plus workers in related industries that rely on coal, such as freight.
Acland has been the subject of widespread national controversy with lobby groups arguing the mine shouldn't go ahead amid a "global downturn in the demand for coal" and increasing pressure to find more environmentally friendly forms of power generation.
Mr Stephan says, while those arguing against the mine's expansion have the right to object through the courts, the coal industry is forecasting growth in thermal coal demand as the US scales back its production in favour of the emerging natural gas industry, not a downturn.
Meanwhile in Asia, predicted demand for coal used in power generation is expected to continue growing, according to the independent US Energy Information Administration.
Mr Stephan says if the approval is not pushed through in time, the company will have no choice but to down scale production which could have 300
miners and about 500 contractors facing unemployment.
"Acland is the second largest employer in the district," Mr Stephan said.
"There are no fly-in, fly-out workers and most of the workers have young families."
New Hope is waiting for the Land Court Member to hand down their decision following the latest court proceedings before approaching Mines Minister Anthony Lynham to finalise approvals.
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