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Record Coal Prices Stall BHP’s Thermal Coal Exit

BHP, the world’s largest miner, has seen its plan to divest thermal coal assets stalled amid the recent rally in coal prices in the global energy crunch, sources with knowledge of the matter have told Bloomberg.

BHP said last year that it would look to exit thermal coal projects following investor pressure to prepare for a world of declining thermal coal demand and the drive for decarbonization.  

The miner said it would look to divest thermal coal, used to generate electricity, and focus more on retaining assets of coking coal, or metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking.

BHP’s thermal coal assets of New South Wales Energy Coal and Cerrejon “have further upside potential to be unlocked through productivity and growth, but are unlikely to compete for capital within BHP,” chief executive Mike Henry said on an earnings call in August 2020.

A year later, as the rally in natural gas prices spurred another rally in coal and oil, the plan to exit thermal coal could now be in doubt, since coal assets have become more valuable amid record-high prices.

In June, BHP agreed to sell to Glencore its 33.3 percent interest in Cerrejón, a non-operated energy coal joint venture in Colombia, for $294 million in cash.

However, the process of selling the Mt Arthur coal mine operation in New South Wales, Australia, has stalled because the value of the asset is now higher, according to Bloomberg’s sources. In addition, investor pressure to sell this thermal coal asset has decreased, the sources say.

Earlier this year, BHP said it was offloading its oil and gas assets in an all-stock merger of its petroleum division with Woodside, which will create one of the world’s top ten independent energy companies by production. The expanded Woodside would be owned 52 percent by existing Woodside shareholders and 48 percent by existing BHP shareholders. 

“The combined company will have a high margin oil portfolio, long life LNG assets and the financial resilience to help supply the energy needed for global growth and development over the energy transition,” BHP said in August.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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