About Coal Opencast Mining in UK



LAON PR 2012- 16 1/12/12

The hidden topic so far, in all the discussion about the Energy Bill is what will be its impact on the UK Coal Industry. This is a much shrunken industry, producing around 18m tonnes of coal a year. Last year 59% of that coal was produced by opencast methods. This year, as the deep mining sector continues to suffer from problems and cost pressures are closing mines (on a temporary basis) at Maltby and Aperpergwm and Daw Mill, our largest pit is almost certain to close, domestic coal production is becoming ever more reliant on surface mining – in the July to September quarter, of the 4m tonnes of coal the UK produced, 65% now came from surface mines.

But even the surface mine sector of the coal industry is not immune to the cold winds of economic realism coming from across the Atlantic, as US coal producers, desperate to find a market for their coal now that it can no longer compete with gas in the US domestic market because of the ‘fracking revolution’, send shiploads of coal to Europe at prices that make UK coal production uncompetitive. As a consequence, ATH Resources, a major surface mine operator has put itself up for sale and stopped development work on its new sites and Scottish Coal has asked its workforce to take a 10% pay cut and mothballed its large Blair House opencast site in Scotland indefinably. It’s just left it as large hole.

Furthermore, the Energy Bill, introduced into Parliament this week is intending to create a low carbon generating system which is design to squeeze out coal from being part of the fuel mix unless Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) prove itself to be commercially viable. The Bill will provide for financial disincentives to make it more costly to burn coal in power stations without CCS, whilst, at the same time, provide financial incentives for existing coal fired power stations to be fully converted to burn biomass. The result is that Coal Operators in the UK are for the foreseeable future likely to see their market for coal shrinking dramatically.

All that may sound good to you, if you worry about protecting the countryside from being treated as one large coal bunker, or you are concerned about climate change.

Except it is not all good news. The expected decline in the use of coal for power generation purposes is going to take years to achieve. In the meantime, we may be starting to witness an increase in planning applications for new opencast mines across the UK, as Coal Operators realise that they must try to cash in on the investments they have already made before the coal market dries up.

This month LAON can report, in its 7th Review of Opencast Sites available here:


that two new proposals have been made recently, one for a new 10m tonne site called Cauldhall, near Rosewell in Midlothian (ironically by Scottish Coal) and the other at the Deanfield site for 1.18m tonnes at Sharleston near Wakefield, where UK Coal, another coal company which nearly went into administration this year, intends to surface mine. As a consequence, The Stop Opencast in Sharlston (SOS) group has joined the Network

That is not the only bad news about the surface mining of coal in England. The Government is proposing, through the Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Clause 21), to make it easier to dig up coal in England, just when they are planning to reduce the role coal plays in producing electricity through the Energy Bill. This clause of the Bill is likely to be debated by the Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, along with our evidence, on Tuesday 4th December.

LAON’s concern about these policy changes is this. Given the economic difficulties that the UK Coal Industry finds itself in, is this the right time to be changing the planning system to make it easier for Coal Operators to get permission for new opencast mines? This is increasing the risk that many more opencast sites are left ‘mothballed’ and pock-marking our country-side if UK Coal Producers find that they are increasingly priced out of their own declining domestic market. In our view, this is not the time to relax planning controls at all for new surface mines in England

We are hoping that the Government realises the inconsistencies in its current policy proposals and whilst it continues with its plans to decarbonise the generating sector, it revises its plans and not allow any plans to surface mine coal in England to be treated as a Major Infrastructure Project.

A referenced version of this press release is available by contacting LAON at the email address below.

About LAON

The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland (Just Say No to Lignite), Scotland (Coal Action Scotland), Wales (Green Valleys Alliance, The Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Campaign), England, (Coal Action Network), Northumberland, (Whittonstall Action Group, Halton Lea Gate Residents)) Co Durham (Pont Valley Network), Leeds, Sheffield (Cowley Residents Action Group), Kirklees, (Skelmansthorpe Action Group) Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition), Derbyshire (West Hallum Environment Group, Smalley Action Group and Hilltop Action Group) , Leicestershire (Minorca Opencast Protest Group), Wakefield (Stop Opencast in Sharlston) and Walsall (Alumwell Action Group).

Contacting LAON

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