a. Unit Perancang Ekonomi. Tenth Malaysia Plan, 2011-2015 / Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department. Putrajaya, Malaysia. 2010
Tin is present on Earth in quantities of 2 parts per million and is the 49th most abundant element (Emsley, 2001). It is one of the oldest metals known to humans, with bronzes containing significant amounts of tin found dating from 2500 BC (International Tin Research Institute, 2009). Tin is extracted via the mineral cassiterite (SnO2), invariably found in association with granite rock. Yeap (1993, p.329) describes the Western Tin Belt in Malaysia (see Figure 4.1) from S-type granites of the Indonesian orogeny which have been subsequently weathered and deposited in alluvium within the Kinta and Klang Valleys, as “the world's richest metallogenic tin province”.
Although tin mining had been practised for centuries in this area, tin production accelerated in the early 19th century, in response to the boom in industrial food canning in the West (Wong Lin Ken, 1965). Tin is also used in industrial applications where corrosion resistance is required via tin and tin alloy coatings, and importantly as a principal ingredient in solder, again in numerous industrial processes (International Tin Research Institute, 2009).
By the late 19th century tens of thousands of (mostly Chinese) immigrants were working and involved in the tin industry: “The production of tin by Chinese miners from the 1840s onwards led to great improvements in the quality of Straits tin which grew in demand in the world market. By the early 1870s, the Chinese dominated the mining industry.” (Tong, 2010, p84). The tin rush era between 1884 and 1895 led to Malaya becoming one of the world’s major exporters of tin throughout early and mid-20th century (Ahmad and Jones, 2013). It also set in motion various socio-economic norms that have persisted through the decades. Tin mining, traditionally divided into two parts; capital-intensive dredging (Figure 4.3) controlled by European investors: and gravel-pumping, a labour intensive task, typically controlled by Chinese interests. However, the industry was complex in its economics, far-reaching in its social implications, and central to the development of the region.
Palmer and Joll (2011) note the importance of the Straits Trading Company, established in Singapore in 1887 by a Scot and a German which changed the availability of finance to local tin miners by investing in, rather than loaning to, the tin industry, as had been the previous norm through wealthy Chinese merchants. Muhlinghaus (Figure 4.4) is credited with recognising the efficiency of and subsequently operationalising a centralised smelter for tin, industrialising Malaysian production.
Thus, European capital combined with Chinese industry and created a fast-paced, highly profitable export commodity which, whilst profiting the region at times when proceeds were not being moved offshore, excluded ethnic Malays, who had a “negligible stake” in tin mine ownership (Alejandro, 1978, p.594).
Tin depostis in Malaysia, which produced around 6 million tonnes of tin metal on the peninsular (Palmer and Joll, 2011) were present in the form of alluvial deposits. This alluvium comprised sand, gravel and clays with very small quantities of the required ore, cassiterite (see Figure 4.5).
The alluvial deposits richest in cassiterite were found in low lying, often swampy floodplains, most significantly in the Kinta Valley, in Perak, adjacent to the Western foothills of the Main Range. Smelting is required to recover tin from ore and even the highest grade of alluvial deposit contained something in the region of 0.04% cassiterite (Palmer and Joll, 2011, p201). Types of tin mining in Malaysia have been labelled (by Palmer and Joll) as ancestral mining (pre 1840-1910); The Chinese Lombong (1840-1940); hydraulic mining (1890-1993); gravel pump mining (1905-2000) and bucket ladder dredging (1913-1996). These various types of mining followed a common four operations regardless of the method: excavation; transportation; recovery and concentration; and disposal of waste. Means of combining these processes ranged from panning to dredging; obtaining alluvial deposits and sluicing repeatedly to get closer to purity. Subsequently smelting recovers the tin metal and smelting, which had previously been accomplished by individual mines, was eventually concentrated in the hands of only two large companies the Straits Trading Company Ltd, which held plants in Singapore and Penang, and Eastern Smelting Company Ltd. (Penang).
Due largely to its profitability, tin was overproduced subsequent to mechanisation, both in Malaya and elsewhere, and particularly after the introduction of the tin dredge, in the early 20th century.
Thoburn (1978) points to a sharp contemporary decline in tin production in the late twentieth century related to procedural disincentives which, to some extent, sought to redress the social balance of the tin industry yet these were the failing decades of the tin industry. The final demise of the Malaysian tin industry was largely due to price manipulation on the world markets bringing about an artificial price and subsequent market collapse in 1981 (Palmer and Joll, 2011).
Since this time world tin production has climbed to new peaks, with over a quarter of a million tonnes of tin being mined last decade, yet production in Malaysia has all but dried up, with productivity in this commodity now having moved to China and Indonesia. Globally, few entrants to tin mining have had the cumulative production of Malaysia even up to present day. Peru is a relatively recent entry to the market and a spike exists in production where Brazil briefly dominated the tin supply in the late eighties (ROW: Russia and Other World, ITRI 2011). Some tin mining sites in Malaysia have now been repurposed, a renowned example being the MINES Resort City, formerly the world’s largest open cast tin mine.
Zulasmin and Wan (2007) note that Malaysian development has been underpinned by a continuous supply of local raw materials for construction. Limestone is a primary material instrumental in the creation of aggregate, lime and cement. Raw limestone export from Malaysia has increased over the last decades, with several hundred thousand tonnes being exported to Australia, India, South Korea and Taiwan, and quantities around a million tonnes to Indonesian, Japan and Singapore (National Statistics Department, 2010). Continuous and ever more rapid construction subsequent to the Second World War has led to strong local demand and supply has rushed to meet it (Wu, 1995).
Limestone is rock formed mainly of calcium carbonate or, more generally, of carbonate rocks –usually calcite or dolomite (Bliss, 2012). Limestone is an important ingredient in common products such as cereal, paint, calcium supplements, marble furniture, antacid tablets, high-quality paper and roofing materials. Limestone is also used to produce construction aggregate, support agriculture and, crucially, to produce lime and cement.
Marine limestone, the main source of carbonate rocks, form because seawater has high concentrations of both calcium and bicarbonate ions. These chemicals are used by nature to create shells by combining these to make calcite. Sedimentary limestone deposits can cover hundreds of square miles in relatively uniform thickness and quality. Thus limestone quarries are often large and productive for long periods, producing multiple products and providing crushed rocks suitable for infrastructural aggregate with the lowest grade material. Extensive limestone resources in Malaysia are located in the states of Perak, Pahang, Kelantan, Kedah and Negeri Sembilan (Zulasmin, 2007).
Granite is an igneous rock, composed principally of feldspar and quartz, formed when pockets of magma trapped beneath the earth slowly cooled. Along with limestone this mineral is heavily used in the construction industry. It has been estimated that over 10 billion tonnes of limestone resources and 8 billion tonnes of granite are present throughout Malaysia (Zulasmin, 2007). Of particular note is the Kuala Lumpur quartz ridge on the northeastern boundary of KL, one of the largest and most unusual quartz formations in the world. The north side of this ridge has been mined for glass.
Quarrying consists of removing blocks of stone using heavy machinery from geological deposits. Much of this is accomplished in Malaysia via open-cast mines and some of this is mined illegally (New Straits Times, 2015). Recently the Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communication turned down a request from Sarawak Quarries Association (SQA) to increase the allowable tonnage of trucks traversing the state, though he disclosed that Sarawak was due to receive around 18 billion RM in relation to the construction of the Pan Borneo Highway, which will be capable of carrying much greater loads than the current infrastructure (Borneo Post, October 30, 2015).
Especially throughout the rubber boom period of the twentieth century infrastructural improvements (railways, ports from and to e.g. Penang, Singapore and telecommunications) put into place by colonial governments eased the transition of Malaysia into a primary commodity exporting machine (Drabble, 1991). Malaysia’s important mineral resources have included antimony, bauxite, clays, coal, copper, gold, ilmenite, iron ore, limestone, natural gas, petroleum, rare earth metals, silica sand, and tin. Of these, only Malaysia’s tin reserves were large enough to allow global leadership in export. However, in other mining areas Malaysia has remained an important global producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a producer of significant quantities of bauxite, copper, crude petroleum, kaolin, gas, and zircon (Wu, 1995, p513). Recently, there has been a rise in concern about the rise in small scale bauxite mining operations which have significant environmental impacts.
The two international crises of 1973 and 1979, and the resulting hikes in prices, stimulated Malaysia to diversify rapidly away from its dependence on oil (Thaddeus, 2002). Malaysia adopted a four fuel diversification strategy consisting of oil, gas, coal and hydro (see Figure 4.11 and Figure 4.12). Reporting and statistics on fossil fuel supply indicate a broad move away from oil usage in Malaysia though of note is the huge increase in energy supply to Malaysia since the nineteen-nineties.
Other commentators have suggested an almost total cessation of oil usage in the energy mix to early 2000s. What is clear is that Malaysia has exported and utilised domestically its stocks of natural gas in preference to maintaining its reliance upon imported oil.
Malaysia energy consumption by sector (Figure 4.13) in has increased by approximately an order of magnitude from around 5000 to 47,000 kilotons of oil equivalent (ktoe) between 1978 and 2012 (Foo, 2015, p1479). Usage in 2012 was dominated by transport and industrial sectors (around 67%), the remaining energy supplied to commercial and non-energy sectors (e.g. production of bulk chemicals) and agriculture sector (2.3%).
Coal resources in Malaysia are estimated at around 1,050 million tonnes of principally bituminous to sub-bituminous coal, 69% of which are found in Sarawak and 29% in Sabah, a negligible 2% residing in Peninsular Malaysia (Thaddeus, 2002). The largest coal deposits can be found in Merit Pila in Sarawak and the Maliau Basin in Sabah. The principal hindrance in developing coal resources in Malaysian Borneo is the comparative lack of infrastructure to enable mining of coal, which is located primarily in the interior. The location of the coal resources within areas of high biodiversity and value for conservation of nature and geoheritage also raises ethical issues for the development of coal mining in Malaysia. Thus coal equivalent to 17% of the energy usage (2012) is imported, mainly from Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and China (Basri et al. 2015) in order to emphasise energy diversification (EIA, 2014).
The anaerobic decay of organic matter under the Earth's surface over geological time produces oil and natural gas. Natural gas was discovered in Malayisa in 1983, reserves being principally found off shore from Sabah and Sarawak and off the East Peninsular coast (Basri et al. 2015). Extraction and processing of natural gas is a complex industrial process in chemical engineering and one which is still evolving from its beginnings last century (Kidnay et al, 2011).
In 2013 Malaysia was the second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) worldwide (after Qatar). Whilst containing only a fraction (1.2%) of the world’s natural gas reserves Malaysia is also “the second-largest oil and natural gas producer in Southeast Asia, and is strategically located amid important routes for seaborne energy trade.” (EIA.gov). It exports LNG to Japan (60%) South Korea (17%) Taiwan (12%) and China (11%, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014). Production from Malaysia’s 55 gas fields reached approximately 6 billion standard cubic feet (scf) in 2011: in 2012 Malaysia exported around 3 and a half billion scf, 97% of which in LNG form (Malaysian Gas Association, 2013).
Both production and domestic consumption trends of natural gas appear to be approximately linear over time, with production increasing more rapidly than consumption due to the diversified strategy (Rahim and Liwan, 2012). Exports of petroleum products and gas accounted for 17% of Malaysia’s total exports in 2011 and the national oil and gas company (PETRONAS) is the most significant contributor of Federal government income, contributing around 40% of the total annual income in taxes, dividends and royalties (Othman and Jafari, 2012).
Indeed, Malaysia has depleted its gas and oil resources for import and domestic use at a rapid pace, the staggering rate of depletion yielding comparatively high financial gains for fuel exports (Rahim and Liwan, 2012). “Based on current extraction rates, Malaysia’s crude oil and natural gas reserves are expected to last for 20 and 34 years, respectively.” (Othman and Jafari, 2012, p484). Othman and Jafari go on to say: “The conventional GDP indicator captures well the benefits of resource extraction and associated products in the economy. However, changes in the stocks of natural assets are clearly omitted from the GDP. Therefore, national income accounts of resource-rich economies that fail to consider changes in mineral assets may seriously misrepresent national income performance and wealth generation over time.” Malaysia’s energy usage outstrips the global growth of energy consumption (Figure 4.17) in the past decades.
The resource curse or the paradox of plenty describes a situation whereby a country rich in natural resources has poor development in other economic and developmental sectors. It has been hypothesised, prior to the Asian financial crisis, that Malaysia had escaped this curse, having diversified economically and made significant steps to alleviate poverty. Yet oil and gas revenues have now become a major source of budget financing (Doraisami, 2015) palm oil seemingly following a similar course in terms of GDP growth in Malaysia.
Mined commodities have shaped the socio economic landscape in Malaysia. In the previous topic, Shaping a Nation, you learned of themes and places foundational to Malaysia’s history and settlement. The topic Geological Beginnings explored how Malaysia came to be over geological time. In this chapter minerals and fossil fuels established by geological processes, and under contemporary socio economic conditions, have been introduced and explored in the context of their contribution to Malaysian economy and life.