The most innovative coal producer in the business is leading the push into one of the world's most important new plays.
The company is Sasol. A South African leader in coal mining, as well as a variety of high-tech applications for turning coal into fuel.
The play is the Waterberg. A massive but barely-touched coal basin in northern South Africa, near the Botswana border. Which might be the most prospective place in the world for new mines today.
Sasol's managing director of mining Peter Steenkamp told Mining Weekly last week that the company is charging ahead into the Waterberg. The firm is currently conducting a feasibility study on coal leases here. And has gone as far as to apply to the government for mining rights.
The fact that a well-heeled investor like Sasol is moving forward with the Waterberg supports the idea this may be the next big play in coal. Coal deposits here are low-strip and likely to come at low cost. Which could mean very low cost by global standards, given that even South Africa's mature basins rank at the low end of the global cost curve.
The coal resource in the Waterberg is immense, with billions of tonnes already identified. Estimates are the area may hold up to 50 billion tonnes.
The challenge for Sasol and other developers here will be infrastructure. Both rail and water are challenging in the region.
But miners like Sasol's black economic-empowerment partner Exxaro Resources have already achieved commercial production here, at that company's Grootegeluk mine. Proving the concept. And potentially setting the stage for larger-scale development.
Keep an eye on this play. We're going to be hearing a lot more about it. Especially given that South Africa is one of the few thermal coal-producing nations positioned to supply coal-hungry India (for those of you who've recently joined us, you can find much more on that theme here). And one of an even smaller number of such coal exporting nations with significant potential for expanding mine capacity.
Sasol may well be once again preparing to change the coal market.
Here's to going where the tonnes are,
By. Dave Forest