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Poll: Should the UK’s first deep coal mine in decades go ahead?



The UK government has opted not to intervene to prevent the go ahead of West Cumbria’s planned Woodhouse Colliery coal mine - the first deep coal mine to open in the country in three decades.

The UK's last coal mine closed in 2016
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

Naturally the decision and the plans themselves have split opinions down the country, with objectors arguing that the mine would represent a backwards step in the fight against climate change, while those in favour highlight job creation and the ongoing need for coal in global industry.

We want to know where engineering professionals stand on the matter. Should the Woodhouse Colliery coal mine go ahead as planned, or should the government have stepped in to cancel the project? Have your say in our poll:

The last deep coal mine in the UK was Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, which closed down in 2016. The new Woodhouse Colliery mine, operated by West Cumbria Mining, will be located in Whitehaven, near the site of the former Haig Colliery which shut in 1986.

The mine will extract coking coal from under the sea, using the existing nearby Sandwith Anhydrite mine portals for access. West Cumbria Mining hope to produce 2-3 million tonnes of hard metallurgical coal per year for around 50 years.

Planned design of the Woodhouse Colliery deep coal mine
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

Construction is planned to begin in early 2020, with coal production starting two years later. It’s expected to create 500 direct jobs, as well as many more indirect jobs in the region. 

West Cumbria Mining claim: “A study in America showed a coal mine with 300 employees indirectly creates at least twice as many jobs in the region, as employees have more disposable income than previously, which impacts on local spending with retail, leisure, construction etc.

As with any change to a local area, there may be decisions that might not suit every individual, but it is our intention to develop a mine which brings significant benefits that the whole community can enjoy for many years to come.”

The mine will create 500 direct jobs and provide economic benefits throughout the area
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

The mine is intended to produce coking coal - which supporters of the project are keen to point out is necessary for the production of steel. Labour politician Tony Lywood, who will be campaigning for the nearby Copeland seat in the upcoming election, has reasoned that there are in fact environmental benefits due to this fact:

“You can’t have a green economy without steel - unless you find a way of making it without coking coal,” he said, after reasoning that it makes more sense to produce this coking coal within the UK, rather than importing it from Canada, Australia or Russia.

“You can’t make windfarm blades out of wood; and the structures of solar panels also have to be made of steel. Sometimes you have to be practical and realistic about the best way forward.”

In a rare bit of cross-party agreement, Lywood’s opponent, Conservative MP Trudy Harrison also supported the opening of the mine, commenting:

“It is vital that this development goes ahead and I am pleased that common sense has prevailed. Woodhouse Colliery has been recognised for its importance to the steel industry and to UK export. Coking coal is essential for the steel industry and this has been rightly recognised.”

Coking coal is used in the production of steel
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

The plans have previously been agreed upon by Cumbria county councilors, but objectors staged sit ins and call ins, insisting upon government scrutiny. Following minister’s decision not to intervene, the council have further ratified their support. 

One local MP who does not agree with the £165 million project is Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Farron - MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale - who called the decision “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change”.

“Cumbria has so many renewable resources to provide energy - water, wind and solar - and we should most definitely not be taking the backwards step of opening a new coal mine.”

Opponents of the mine are focused on environmental concerns of using coal
(Image via West Cumbria Mining)

Friends of the Earth clean energy campaigner Tony Bosworth also commented on the mine, calling it “awful news for our environment.”

“Coal for power generation is currently being phased out. Industries like steel and cement must make the shift to cleaner energy a top priority.

“It’s time to consign coal to the history books where it now belongs.”

Have your say

Do you agree with Cumbria Council’s support for the Woodhouse Colliery Mine? Does the use of coking coal in the production of steel make it a necessary project for West Cumbria, or do the environmental negatives of coal production outweigh the benefits? Have your say in the above poll, or leave a comment below. 

The results of the poll and the best comments will be published on Monday 11th November, and will be featured in next week’s EngineeringPro newsletter.

Recent Comments
As just commented beneath a related article: 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: 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: 29mar19 ArcelorMittal to use hydrogen in steel production process 29th March 2019 Also on Hamburg DRI site. BloombergNEF
Dr Henry Adams, 13 November 2019
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Poll: Should the UK’s first deep coal mine in decades go ahead? - Time to read 4 min
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