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Poll Results: The Woodhouse Colliery coal mine should go ahead

11/11/2019
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Last week the UK Government announced that they would not be stepping in to counter local council approval for a new deep coal mine in West Cumbria. The Woodhouse Colliery coal mine will be the first to open in the country in three decades.

The decision split opinions across the country, but we wanted to know what engineering professionals thought. We asked you if the UK should go ahead with plans for the Woodhouse Colliery deep coal mine and here’s how you responded:

87% of EngineeringPro readers believe that the Woodhouse Colliery mine should go ahead

With 87% of the vote, it’s clear that EngineeringPro readers are largely in favour of the new coal mine. 

Opponents of the mine, such as former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron - who is currently campaigning to retain his seat as MP for the nearby Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency, say that opening a new coal mine would be “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change”.

However, those in favour - including both Conservative and Labour politicians fighting for the Copeland seat (Trudy Harrison and Tony Lywood respectively) - point to the intended usage of output from the mine as coking coal, for the manufacture of steel. 

With British Steel on the verge of a buyout that could potentially increase the nation’s steel production and contribute to more than 20,000 jobs within the supply chain, a local resource of coking coal will be a significant boost to the industry and larger economy. 

EngineeringPro reader Mark Lawton summed up the environmental benefits of locally sourced coking coal on LinkedIn:

“Yes it should go ahead. We need coking coal for our struggling steel industry and we currently ship this material in from far flung parts of the world. The production of essential metals like steel requires huge amounts of energy, so while we are still building our "green" energy supply, it makes sense to source the coking coal from our own shores ....”

The planned design of the Woodhouse Colliery mine from above
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

Others also added their support in more blunt terms, such as this comment also left on LinkedIn by Meiir Alpyssov:

“It should go ahead. Period”

Have your say

Do you agree with 87% of EngineeringPro readers that the UK should begin building the country’s first deep coal mine in thirty years? Or do you disagree that digging up coking coal within the UK would be more environmentally beneficial than shipping it in from other countries? Have your say in the comments below, and the best will be featured in next week’s EngineeringPro newsletter.

This week’s poll will be published on EngineeringPro later today.

Recent Comments
It is disappointing to see that the vote favours the side that makes statements that are - even in engineering terms - untrue as I will show, and ignore: (i) engineering advances in steel-making that do not need coking coal, such as gas-DRI (e.g. in US & Arcelor-Mittal's plant in Hamburg), and the progress being made to replace coal and methane for reducing&heating with hydrogen e.g. SSAB's HYBRIT. (ii) that steel-making companies are now keen to decarbonise steel-making and to shift away from coal (as emphasized to me by a former respected Scunthorpe engineer), (iii) that even the Conservative gov in August expressed a policy change for a path of steel-decarb. But then - if there are profits and jobs to be made - truth seems to be the first casualty, and the ultimate casualties as a climate scientist has pointed out, will be climate-related deaths in consequence of the whopping 9 million tonnes per annum CO2e emissions which will very likely exceed the number of jobs provided. I'll continue this in a comment part 2 ...
Dr Henry Adams, 13 November 2019
Comment part 2 Firstly to correct the false assertions and assumptions by Tony Lywood and Trudy Harrison and others: 1. Coking coal is NOT necessary for the production of steel, both as primary steel from iron ore and as recycled steel from scrap steel. Primary steel has been produced from iron ore using gas (not coal) as both reducing agent and heating agent for a number of years over the world (e.g. in the US and Hamburg, Germany) using the DRI Direct Reduced Iron process. Although gas-DRI now uses “natural gas” methane, several steel-making companies such as SSAB and Arcelor-Mittall are well in to developing projects using hydrogen instead of methane or coking coal as reducing agent, which reduces iron oxide to steel and water instead of steel and CO2. 2. It does NOT “make more sense to produce coking coal within the UK” for the UK’s blast furnaces in terms of carbon emissions, because: (a) the dubious carbon transportation “savings” claimed by WCM and CumbriaCC have been shown to be relatively tiny (around 1% of) the whopping additions to global emissions of 9 million tonnes CO2e per year that would result from the mine. (b) UK must and can decarbonise its steel-making by a significant percentage by 2030, which means reducing the number of active blast furnaces it uses (I know of 4 out of 6 being active), probably step-wise as new plant using alternative methods comes into production. UK Government in August this year announced its interest in a decarbonisation path. The steel industry is already keen to decarbonise, and a former Scunthorpe engineer assures me of this. While UK’s blast furnaces drop out of production this coming decade they can continue to use imported coking coal. Thus granting WCM 50 years planning permission is obviously not justified by a decreasing demand for coking coal by UK blast furnaces which is likely to be either zero or much less than now by 2030. There is no legal or policy case that commits the UK to supply any demand outside the UK. While I'm at debunking myths, 2 more spring to mind: 3. The "substitution myth". (In several forms). It is obviously an untenable assumption, that shared by WCM Ltd and CumbriaCC (including Planning Officers), that any addition of coking coal (and consequent emissions) to the regional or world market by WCM Ltd will result in an equal reduction in output (and this consequent emissions) from mines elsewhere in the world, such that the overall effect on emissions would be zero. I guess I don’t need to explain why the substitution argument is untenable, as anyone with even a basic grasp of economics will spot the flaws immediately. Here are some links to useful refs re the above: Hydrogen steelmaking for a low-carbon economy - A joint LU-SEI working paper for the HYBRIT project: https://www.sei.org/publications/hydrogen-steelmaking/ 29mar19 ArcelorMittal to use hydrogen in steel production process 29th March 2019 https://www.theengineer.co.uk/arcelormittal-to-use-hydrogen-in-steel-production-process/ Also on Hamburg DRI site. BloombergNEF https://www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-08-29/how-hydrogen-could-solve-steel-s-climate-test-and-hobble-coal
Dr Henry Adams, 13 November 2019
Comment part 2 Firstly to correct the false assertions and assumptions by Tony Lywood and Trudy Harrison and others: 1. Coking coal is NOT necessary for the production of steel, both as primary steel from iron ore and as recycled steel from scrap steel. Primary steel has been produced from iron ore using gas (not coal) as both reducing agent and heating agent for a number of years over the world (e.g. in the US and Hamburg, Germany) using the DRI Direct Reduced Iron process. Although gas-DRI now uses “natural gas” methane, several steel-making companies such as SSAB and Arcelor-Mittall are well in to developing projects using hydrogen instead of methane or coking coal as reducing agent, which reduces iron oxide to steel and water instead of steel and CO2. 2. It does NOT “make more sense to produce coking coal within the UK” for the UK’s blast furnaces in terms of carbon emissions, because: (a) the dubious carbon transportation “savings” claimed by WCM and CumbriaCC have been shown to be relatively tiny (around 1% of) the whopping additions to global emissions of 9 million tonnes CO2e per year that would result from the mine. (b) UK must and can decarbonise its steel-making by a significant percentage by 2030, which means reducing the number of active blast furnaces it uses (I know of 4 out of 6 being active), probably step-wise as new plant using alternative methods comes into production. UK Government in August this year announced its interest in a decarbonisation path. The steel industry is already keen to decarbonise, and a former Scunthorpe engineer assures me of this. While UK’s blast furnaces drop out of production this coming decade they can continue to use imported coking coal. Thus granting WCM 50 years planning permission is obviously not justified by a decreasing demand for coking coal by UK blast furnaces which is likely to be either zero or much less than now by 2030. There is no legal or policy case that commits the UK to supply any demand outside the UK. While I'm at debunking myths, 2 more spring to mind: 3. The "substitution myth". (In several forms). It is obviously an untenable assumption, that shared by WCM Ltd and CumbriaCC (including Planning Officers), that any addition of coking coal (and consequent emissions) to the regional or world market by WCM Ltd will result in an equal reduction in output (and this consequent emissions) from mines elsewhere in the world, such that the overall effect on emissions would be zero. I guess I don’t need to explain why the substitution argument is untenable, as anyone with even a basic grasp of economics will spot the flaws immediately. Here are some links to useful refs re the above: Hydrogen steelmaking for a low-carbon economy - A joint LU-SEI working paper for the HYBRIT project: https://www.sei.org/publications/hydrogen-steelmaking/ 29mar19 ArcelorMittal to use hydrogen in steel production process 29th March 2019 https://www.theengineer.co.uk/arcelormittal-to-use-hydrogen-in-steel-production-process/ Also on Hamburg DRI site. BloombergNEF https://www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-08-29/how-hydrogen-could-solve-steel-s-climate-test-and-hobble-coal
Dr Henry Adams, 13 November 2019
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Poll Results: The Woodhouse Colliery coal mine should go ahead - Time to read 3 min
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