It's the best of times, it's the worst of times. At least when it comes to mining coal.
After years of decline, demand for the polluting fossil fuel has surged this year as Europe scrambles to replace Russian gas, and coal miners are making money hand over fist.
With coal prices hitting record highs, companies would normally expand their operations, but projects are being left on the table as most Western banks stand by climate pledges to restrict lending to the sector, according to a dozen mining company executives and investors.
"If you are a business with a bank right now it's easier. If you want to build a new mine, forget it, that has become impossible," said Gerhard Ziems, chief financial officer at Australian coal miner Coronado Global Resources Inc (CRN.AX).
Demand for the fossil fuel is so strong some miners say they are selling coking coal used by steelmakers to electricity companies instead. The lower-value thermal coal used in power plants traded above coking coal for the first time ever in June.
Benchmark Australian Newcastle thermal coal was languishing at about $50 a tonne at the start of 2020 before climbing to above $150 tonne at the start of 2022. It then surged to a record high above $400 a tonne in September as countries desperately sought alternatives to Russian gas.
[Sarah Mcfarlane and Clara Deninia]