Colombia coal, gold and nickel output down year-on-year in second quarter

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia, the world’s fifth-largest exporter of coal, produced 18.9 million tonnes of the fuel in the second quarter, down 4.5% from the same period in 2018, the government said on Friday.

Coal production in the South American country was 19.8 million tonnes between April and June last year.

Leading coal companies have forecast that production and exports are likely to remain stable in 2019. The Andean country produced 84.3 million tonnes over the course of 2018.

Coal is the second-largest generator of foreign exchange in Colombia, behind oil, and its top mining export. The country is attempting to diversify its mining output with more formal investment in gold, copper and emerald projects.

Coal production has been pressured by low prices caused by a decease in European demand, climate conditions that affected projects near the northern Caribbean coast and judicial restrictions that have limited work at projects like the Cerrejon mine, Silvana Habib, the president of the national mining agency, said in a joint statement with the energy ministry.

Nickel production was down 6.2% to 23.3 million pounds during the quarter, but up 13.2% from the first quarter of 2019 because of better prices, the statement added.

Gold output was also down - by 7.2% - to 8.7 tonnes during the quarter, the statement said. The government’s focus remains on increasing legal production of the mineral, it added.

Multinational mining companies looking to kick off large-scale underground gold projects have struggled in recent years amid legal, financial and licensing troubles and environmental and community objections.

Nickel production is dominated by South32’s Cerro Matoso mine.

The biggest players in Colombia’s coal industry are Drummond Co Inc, Glencore Plc and Murray Energy Corp’s Colombia Natural Resources. There is also Cerrejon, owned by BHP Group Ltd, Anglo American Plc and Glencore.

(The story corrects fifth paragraph to reflect that climate conditions, not heavy rains, are part of explanation for coal output fall.)

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio