For more than four decades Mick Buffier has worked in coal mining. While he officially retired on January 31, it’s safe to say that Mick will never stop advocating for the coal industry.
In 1975, after completing a Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Hons) from Sydney University, Mick worked as a civil engineer on Kooragang Island and subsequently the Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation with NSW Public Works
However in 1981, when there was a shortage of mining engineers – like we are currently experiencing – he started his first job in the industry as a Mining Engineer at BHP Saxonvale (now Bulga). He then worked his way up, taking on positions such as Senior Mining Engineer, Production Manager, Mining Manager and General Manager. He also added a Master of Business Administration from Newcastle University to his qualifications.
For the past 23 years, Mick has worked for Glencore, starting with the company as Director of Open Cuts in 2001. He was Chief Operating Officer of NSW Coal Assets from 2002 to 2008 before moving to his current position as Group Executive, HSEC and Industry Relations for Glencore’s global coal business headquartered in Sydney, which also covers the company’s South African and Colombian coal operations.
Mick said that throughout his career focusing on safety improvement and coal advocacy are the two areas that have given him a great deal of satisfaction.
In his role in Glencore, he was a key contributor to the roll out of “Safe Coal” which was the foundation for Glencore’s global “SafeWork” program, a Glencore initiative that promotes the elimination of fatalities and serious injuries.
When asked about personal achievements throughout his career, Mick said, “I was involved many years ago bringing on a new mine that subsequently had no lost time injuries in its first 5 years of operation and minimal industrial disputation. We instilled a very good team culture with an open-door policy, however, everyone was still accountable for their individual performance. That achievement was particularly satisfying.
“The industry has made very significant advances in its safety performance. Today, working safely is well embedded in the mindset of all of our people, they understand the work hazards and how they must be controlled. Certainly, within Glencore there is a clear understanding that those operations that perform the best, business and productivity wise, usually have the best safety and environmental performance. It comes from the right leadership, culture and systematic management processes.”
His contribution to safety extends beyond Glencore’s operations. He was a member of the NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council for many years, a tripartite council involving government, industry and representation from unions that worked constructively to improve mine safety in NSW.
It is one of many esteemed positions Mick has held throughout his career. He has been Chair and Deputy Chair of both the NSW Minerals Council and World Coal Association. Additionally, he was an Associate to the Coal Industry Advisory Board (CIAB), a group established by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to provide high level advice to the IEA on the coal industry. Every position provided Mick a platform to advocate for the coal mining industry.
“I believe in the coal industry and the contribution it makes to society. How many people understand when they look at the high rise buildings and bridges in major cities like Sydney the enormous dependency there is on steel and cement, which in turn are made using coal?
“Concrete is the second most used product in the world after water! Yet for every one tonne of cement you require half a tonne of coal to manufacture it. And if we are to reach net-zero the CO2 from making cement it is going to have to be abated using carbon, capture and storage, there is no other decarbonisation solution.
“Equally, while we are going to continue to use more and more renewables, for an electricity grid to be stable it will still need to be supported by dispatchable and reliable power sources such as abated gas or coal, or nuclear.”
Despite information to the contrary, in 2023 worldwide electricity generation from coal hit record highs. To meet net-zero targets, we need low emission technologies. As a ministerial appointee to the NSW Coal Innovation Council and a Director of Low Emission Technology Australia (LETA), Mick has been helping make these critical technologies a reality, because coal will continue to play a role in the energy transition in years ahead, particularly in Asia. Mick encourages people to be part of it.
“I’m so grateful for the career I have had in the coal industry. Would I recommend it to people entering the workforce today? Absolutely.
“It is gratifying to see some of the industry career advisory education starting to bear fruit. There are many opportunities out there both in operating and technical roles and it is pleasing to see young people joining the industry.”
There is no doubt Mick has made an enormous contribution to the coal mining industry, a contribution that was recognised when he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to NSW Mining at the 2019 NSW Mining Industry & Suppliers Awards.
Stephen Galilee, Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Minerals Council said, “Mick has been a significant contributor and leader in the mining industry for decades. He’s also been a great mentor to me, and to many others across the industry. He will be sorely missed, and we wish him all the best for the future.”
As for that future, Mick said he will miss the relationships with so many different colleagues in the industry as well as helping to address the energy challenges ahead but he’s looking forward to the next chapter.
“I intend to travel overseas more with my wife Pat, spend more time with my grandchildren, take advantage of my new season tickets watching the Knights and get to the horse races more!”