Exclusive: BHP, Peabody shut coal mines ahead of cyclone

PERTH Wed Feb 2, 2011 6:48am EST

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PERTH (Reuters) - Global miners BHP Billiton and Peabody Energy have shut several coal mines located in Australia's coal-rich Queensland state ahead of a cyclone, whose center is due to hit land early on Thursday.

Cyclone Yasi is hitting Australia's coal industry just as it is beginning to get back on its feet from devastating floods that slashed coal exports.

BHP's Peak Downs, South Walker Creek and Broadmeadow coal mines were all shut, as was Peabody's Burton mine, Shane Brunker, an official for the union representing Queensland coal miners, told Reuters on Wednesday.

BHP owns the three coal mines, which have a combined capacity of over 15 million tonnes of coal per year of coking coal, through the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, which it owns jointly with Japan's Mitsubishi.

Peabody's Burton mine produces 2.7 million tonnes of coal per year.

BHP and Peabody were not immediately available to comment on the closures.

Earlier this week, Rio Tinto's Hail Creek mine and Xstrata Coal's Collinsville mine, were closed. Xstrata was considering shutting its Newlands mine as well.

Cyclone Yasi is expected to be the strongest ever to hit Australia. Although most of Queensland's coal mines lie south of the cyclone's predicted march west across the state, some northerly mines may still be within its reach.

Australia accounts for almost two-thirds of global exports of coking or metallurgical coal, which is used for steel making, and it is also the second-biggest exporter behind Indonesia of thermal coal, used for power generation.

About 90 percent of Australia's coking coal exports come from Queensland state.

(Reporting by Rebekah Kebede; Editing by Ed Lane and Yoko Nishikawa)

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