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Hearing date set for proposed West Cumbria Coal mine

The legal challenges against the government’s approval of a new coal mine off the coast of Cumbria will be heard in London on the 16th to 18th July.

West Cumbria Mining Ltd’s application to extract 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal a year, right up to until 2049, was approved by the Conservative Government in December 2022. Two legal challenges to this decision have been awaiting a High Court hearing following the decision.

Help stop the coal mine by sharing or donating to SLACC's crowdfunder for their legal costs. Everything helps.

One of the 5 grounds against the approval of the mine relies on the outcome of case relating to the downstream emissions from a proposed oil well at Horse Hill Surrey. West Cumbria Mining Ltd intervened in the Horse Hill case, hoping for a ruling that would set a precedent that allows the coal mine to go ahead. The Supreme Court Hearing for the Horse Hill case took place in June 2023, but the decision has yet to be announced.

The courts had said that the legal challenges to the proposed coal mine needed to be heard after the Horse Hill decision was given. This condition has now been lifted and the hearing will take place in July, irrelevant of when the Horse Hill decision is made.

Following the July hearing, the High Court judges will decide whether the government’s approval of the proposed coal mine is lawful. If it decides the decision wasn’t lawful a new decision will be required from the government which could be the end of this disastrous project.

Demonstrations are being planned in support of the legal challenges on the first day of the hearing in outside the court in London and in Whitehaven, Cumbria during the hearing. Keep an eye out on our upcoming events page for details when available.

Aberpergwm coal mine extension debated in court

Today, 6th February 2024, Coal Action Network was back in court, this time appealing last year’s decision by the court that the Welsh Government couldn’t prevent an extension at Aberpergwm coal mine. Our legal team believes the Welsh Government can, and we believe it should, stop the Aberpergwm extension—keeping 42 million tonnes of coal underground. At stake in this case is an additional 1.17 million tonnes of methane and up to 120 million tonnes of CO2 would be released.

Barristers Estelle Dehon KC and Asitha Ranatunga (Cornerstone Barristers), supported by Matthew McFeeley (Richard Buxton Solicitors), argued that there is a difference between the authorisation for a coal mine and the licensing for one, particularly in the conditional form.

While the specific legal argument is complicated, the case is really a question of whether the Wales Act (2017) means the Welsh Government, rather than the UK Government’s Coal Authority, gets the final say on whether the Aberpergwm coal mine extension can go ahead.

A much debated section reads:

Aberpergwm deep coal mine supplies 70% of its coal to Port Talbot steelworks, which is expected to significantly reduce its coal demand as it decarbonises.

Welsh Government policy, while not without loopholes, does make a stand against the extraction of coal. Should the 3 appeal judges decide that Coal Action Network’s legal team is correct, the Welsh Government will need to decide whether to allow the extension to happen. A ruling is expected in the next 6—12 weeks.

Published 06. 02. 2024

EMR Capital’s other coking coal mine – Kestrel, Queensland

EMR Capital, the company that owns 81% of the proposed West Cumbria Coal mine, is currently operating another coking coal mine – Kestrel.

The Kestrel mine is an underground mine located in the Bowen Basin in central Queensland. The Bowen Basin contains the largest coal reserves in Australia.

The mine produces twice the annual output proposed for West Cumbria, at 5.56 million tonnes a year. The Kestrel coal mine is not without controversy, which could occur in West Cumbria if the mines started. See below for recent issues for workers, subsidence and with polluted water discharge which at Kestrel could affect the Great Barrier Reef or the coast at Cumbria.

There is not a strong campaign focus against Kestrel coal mine specifically, as in 2021, Australia had 94 operational coal mines, coal and a much lower population density than in the UK. The mine has operated since 1992.

Like the proposed West Cumbria Coal mine, Kestrel is not owned and operated by just one company.

“Both EMR and Adaro are keen investors in Metallurgical Coal.”[1]

Kestrel mine is owned by Kestrel Coal Resources (80%) and Mitsui Investments (20%). Kestrel Coal Resources is made up of 52% EMR Capital, with Adaro Capital Ltd owning the other 48%.

Location of Kestrel coal mine

Key facts

  • Coal type: coking coal
  • Location: central Queensland
  • Traditional owners of the land: Western Kangoulu [2]
  • Area: 17,000 hectares
  • Depth: 350m to 400m [3]
  • Seem depth: 3m [3]
  • Annual coal sales: 5.56 Mt (2021) [4]
  • Main markets: India, South Korea, and Japan [4]
  • Mining started: 1992 [5]
  • Expected closure: 2032 [5]
  • Reserves available until: 2046 [6]
  • Further expansion?: Likely [7]
  • Employees: approximately 660 [2]
  • Mine’s direct annual emission position in Australia (2019-2020) 9th [9] out of approx 94 mines [8]
  • Previous owner: Mitsui Investments (20%) and Rio Tinto (80%) share sold to EMR Capital and Adaro Energy in 2018.
Kestrel coal mine from https://www.mining-outlook.com/commodities/coal-mining-sector/kestrel-coal-resources-mining-for-a-legacy-worth-leaving/4

Controversy

Protests and disputes

There were workers disputes at the mine in 2022 over job contracts, including redundancy policies, health insurance policies and our incentive bonus policy. The Mining and Energy Union vice president criticized Kestrel over the ongoing saga. [10]

The mine was for sale in 2022. It does not seem to have found a buyer.

Threat at a local level

The traditional owners of the land are the Western Kangoulu people who co-operate to some extent with the miners, but say “the sectors activities also present a large threat to the protection of cultural heritage and values with extensive and irreparable damage being done to the land resources of the Western Kangoulu area.” [11]

Environmental issues

Lock the Gate has highlighted that “Central Queensland coal mines are releasing billions of litres of polluted water many times saltier than the receiving rivers in the catchment of the Great Barrier Reef, prompting concerns about the ecological health of impacted waterways.”

According to the Environment Department’s figures, Kestrel, in Jan 2023 was releasing the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water every eight seconds into Crinum Creek.

The Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland director said, “It’s particularly galling that even coal mines that publicly claim to be ‘zero-discharge’, such as Kestrel, are releasing thousands of litres into Central [Queensland] creeks every second which will be carrying sediment to the Reef.” [12]

Subsidence

There has been subsidence at the Kestrel mine, this was likely planned. The area over the mines is mainly agricultural. Subsidence is where the ground sinks after coal mining has cleared an underground void and the rock roof is allowed to fall in, causing disruption at ground level.

At the Kestrel mine there is recorded subsidence of 1.6m to 2 m down the centre of the 250 m wide panels. These panels are approximately 4km long.” At the Kestrel site this affects the hydrology of the area. Similar subsidence, were it to take place, at the currently proposed West Cumbria coal mine, would cause disruption on the sea bed. If this is expected a license for the mine is required from the Marine Management Organisation. As “subsidence increase[s] permeability and porosity”. [13]

References

1 https://kestrelcoal.com/stakeholders/

2 https://www.mining-outlook.com/commodities/coal-mining-sector/kestrel-coal-resources-mining-for-a-legacy-worth-leaving/3

3 https://www.mining-outlook.com/commodities/coal-mining-sector/kestrel-coal-resources-mining-for-a-legacy-worth-leaving

4 https://www.adaro.com/pages/read/7/22/mining

5 https://www.gem.wiki/Kestrel_mine

6 https://www.mining-outlook.com/commodities/coal-mining-sector/kestrel-coal-resources-mining-for-a-legacy-worth-leaving#small-but-mighty

7 https://www.mining-outlook.com/commodities/coal-mining-sector/kestrel-coal-resources-mining-for-a-legacy-worth-leaving/7

8 https://www.ga.gov.au/digital-publication/aecr2023/coal

9 https://www.lockthegate.org.au/flatulent_narrabri_underground_expansion_would_be_most_polluting_thermal_coal_mine_in_australia_for_direct_greenhouse_emissions

10 https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/central-queensland/business/kestrel-coal-mine-dispute-over-employee-agreement-between-emerald-miners-and-kestrel-coal-resources/news-story/51458de7ad16d0214fc17426a2b9a1cf

11 https://lumburrabimbi.com.au/western-kangoulu/

12 https://lumburrabimbi.com.au/western-kangoulu/

13 file:///home/anne/Lechner2014Theimpactofundergroundlongwallminingonprimeagriculturalland.pdf Referencing Gullo D. 2006. Kestrel coal mine: subsidence and agriculture. Central Queensland Mining Forum. 18 October 2006. Fitzroy Basin Association, Emerald, Queensland, Australia., Booth & Spande, 1992; Potentiometric and aquifer property change above subsiding longwall mine panels, Illinois basin coalfield. Ground Water 30: 362–368., and Booth, 1998, Impacts of mine subsidence on groundwater. In Proceedings of Prime, Farmland Interactive Forum, Hooks CL, Vories KC, Throgmorton D (eds). Department of Agronomy, Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Southern Indiana: Evansville; 143–148.).

 

Finite: the Climate of change – watch from home

We’re excited to let you know that you can finally watch FINITE online now on Vimeo On Demand, by renting or buying the film.

FINITE: The Climate of Change is an inspiring insider’s view of communities in the UK and Germany putting their bodies on the line to fight back against coal mining. Featuring Coal Action Network alongside local people in the Pont Valley, Durham. FINITE is an authentic and emotional insight into the David and Goliath battle between frontline communities and activists on one side, and coal mining corporations on the other.

A masterpiece: powerful, inspiring, uplifting. Please watch it.”

GEORGE MONBIOT

Currently the COP28 climate summit is taking place in Dubai. December 7th, marks a year since the UK Government approved a new underground coking coal mine in Cumbria. Since then, the Government has encouraged new oil and gas extraction. Action against fossil fuels remains a necessity.

The wider story of the Pont Valley can be found here.

In the words of an activist in FINITE:

"climate conferences are not going to save us, we have to save ourselves"

📣 If you think this story is important, please help us spread the word. 📣

Share the film on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Enjoy the film!

Q&A proposed West Cumbria coal mine questions

Concerned you don't have all the details to talk to people on the street about the proposed West Cumbria coal mine? This page gives suggestion answers to some of the more detailed questions campaigners get asked about West Cumbria Mining Ltd's plans for Whitehaven. Have a look and see if they help you feel more confident speaking about this campaign.

They serve as guide answers, you may have your own.

What is proposed?

West Cumbria Mining Ltd want to mine 2.78 million tonnes of coal a year until 2049. The company aims to produce around 64 million tonnes of coal in total, from a predominantly undersea mine.

This would result in 0.34 million tonnes of methane being released during the process of mining, and a further 200 million tonnes of CO2 when the coal is burned. The methane would account for almost 40% to the UK’s fossil production methane emissions by 2030, putting critical methane targets at risk. The CO2 is equivalent to the United Arab Emirates' total 2021 emissions.

Potential questions, with answers

"We need the coal for power stations"

The coal is destined for foreign steelworks, it’s not the type normally used in power stations. The UK got less than 2% of its energy from coal last year, we don’t need more coal to keep lights on.

"We need the coal for UK steel making"

Almost all the coal would be exported. Both the UK’s major steelworks – at Port Talbot and Scunthorpe – have confirmed they will close their coal-based blast furnaces and install electric arc furnaces which recycle scrap steel without coal. At present this scrap steel is exported to be recycled abroad and then recycled steel is reimported. There is plenty of scope to increase UK-based recycling.

"The coal would be high quality"

Coal from Whitehaven is high in sulphur and causes acid rain when burnt. So its use is restricted by the UK and European Union. This means the coal is most likely to be sold to Turkey, outside the EU – a major steelmaker with lower pollution standards.

In order to reduce the sulphur content of the coal, it would need to be either blended with low sulphur coal, like that mined in Australia, or it would need to be ‘ barrel washed’. There’s no information from West Cumbria Mining Ltd on how washing would be done, or where the polluted waste from washing would go.

"You can’t make steel without coal"

The main way that new steel is made currently uses coal, but already 9% of steel is made by Direct Reduction which doesn’t need to use coal. Direct Reduction can use hydrogen (or fossil fuels, inc. coal). Only hydrogen made from renewables can be considered green.

In the UK there are already 4 steelworks that recycle scrap steel in electric arc furnaces and 2 major steelworks with blast furnaces which use large amounts of coal. The latter are the UK’s 2nd and 3rd biggest single site emitters of CO2. The blast furnace operators have agreed to convert to electric arc furnaces and stop using coal within the next few years, with one expected to convert in March 2024.

The UK government has been investing in carbon capture and storage projects, which have been unsuccessful in capturing significant quantities of greenhouse gasses. The UK is behind other European countries on investment in new green steel technology. There are new primary steel manufacturing methods that use green hydrogen with direct reduction iron that can be utilised in the UK if there was political will.

"You still need coal in electric arc furnaces (EAF)"

Although the lobby group UK Steel says 9kg of coking coal may be used in EAF to produce a tonne of steel (versus 780kg for a tonne of blast furnace steel), other sources of carbon are possible to completely exclude coal use, using the same infrastructure.

"You can’t always use recycled steel"

In the construction industry, steel is often over-supplied by as much as 50%. We can use far less to build the same amount of things. We need to employ engineers to more accurately calculate what is needed, and reduce the amount of raw materials produced.

Steel must be part of the circular economy, alongside reducing use and reusing it before recycling, rather than extracting more materials to make ever more goods.

Companies like Volvo, and top-end manufacturers like Porche, are demanding green steel for their cars. Advances in technology mean ever more metal is able to be recycled and progress in design can reduce contaminants in scrap metal.

"It would be a carbon-neutral mine"

Coal mines are not carbon-neutral. They release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas whilst coal is being mined and release CO2 when the coal is later burned.

Once coal is brought above ground it will be burnt, as companies can make a profit. So coal mined in West Cumbria would worsen climate change through increased coal use. Mining coal in Cumbria doesn't mean it will be left underground somewhere else, as companies with planning permission will sell everything they can having already invested in mines.

The International Panel on Climate Change says that we cannot be net-zero by 2050 if we open any more fossil fuel extraction sites and that we have to close some of the existing ones.

Gold Standard is the carbon offsetting company that West Cumbria Mining Ltd intended to pay to offset emissions from its proposed coal mine by planting trees or supporting renewable schemes. However, Gold Standard responded to this intention by saying “Our claims guidelines make it clear that to make an offset claim organisations should prioritise the avoidance and reduction of emissions – something that is clearly impossible for a coalmine”. Even if an offsetting company wanted this business, the coal mine’s methane emissions would not be offset.

"The methane will be captured"

West Cumbria Mining Ltd doesn’t intend to begin collecting methane released from the proposed coal mine until 5 years after the project starts. The majority of this highly potent greenhouse gas is released when the mine is first created, so even if methane capture equipment caught and burnt 100% of methane released (which it won’t) it will be too little, too late.

"We need the jobs"

Whitehaven may need more jobs but the jobs in this mine, were it to go ahead, would be very different to those in previous local mines. The project would be technologically advanced and employ far fewer people that mines traditionally. Most likely the company would bring in foreign workers, such as Australian miners experienced with ultra-modern mines.

Unionised green jobs can be created in Whitehaven with the right government support, such as for trades people insulating the poor quality housing stock, or improving public transport and doing good for the area as well as creating work. A Just Transition for Cumbria is crucial and means that the community is put at the heart of decisions and workers are leading their industries.

"People from out of the area can’t tell us what to do"

People living in Whitehaven are also concerned about the ecological and climate impacts that this mine would have. If the mine goes ahead, the coal will worsen climate change which affects us all. No-one in Cumbria wants to be flooded by increasingly heavy rains washing away soil in fields and devastating homes, nor to experience droughts brought on by extreme temperatures. Climate change will bring both.

"It’s a local mining company"

West Cumbria Mining Ltd is 81% owned by EMR Capital, a private equity investment fund that manages various mines, with offices in Australia, the Cayman Islands tax haven, and Singapore. The head of EMR Capital used to work for the infamous Rio Tinto. The investors in the project are predominantly from Australia and the USA. There are no local offices or employees of WCM Ltd.

"Mining is our heritage"

We can be proud of our mining heritage and still want a different future.

Our world has changed since coal mining brought stable work and the community of the pits. We no longer need to risk people’s lives in mining coal seems that we know to be gassy and dangerous—we have other ways to make steel and to heat homes.

"Contamination in proposed area"

The Marchon Bank Chemical works was closed in 2005. It had been a detergent factory, as well as the largest single-site producer of sulphuric acid in Europe and the largest single-site producer of Sodium Tripolyphospate in the world. There were also phosphoric acid plants.

The land was registered as contaminated. Although nothing changed at the site, the status was removed in 2013 when the site was approved for a biomass plantation and public access.

If mining were to go ahead, it would involve removing large concrete pads locking in the contamination at the site, this presents a risk of airbourne toxins. This is a risk, especially to the people living in the hundreds of new houses built around the northern and eastern perimeters of the site.

"They only want to dump nuclear waste"

The company that is behind West Cumbria Mining Ltd, EMR Capital, is a holdings company which buys global mining projects (not just for coal) and extracts minerals. If all the permissions and contracts are in place and the project is financially viable then coal mining will happen here.

It may be possible that once the site stops being economically viable or is sold to another company, that nuclear waste from Sellafield or further afield could be dumped in the dug out areas. We can’t assume that the only reason they want permission to mine is to dump nuclear waste, the opportunity to extract coal and turn a profit is too big to be ignored for nuclear waste dumping alone.

"There’s nothing that can be done to stop it"

There is not a coal mine on this site. There is still everything to play for.

To operate the project likely needs a license for the undersea section from the Marine Management Organisation – which could take a year to get from the time of application. There are other permissions and there has to be companies – including investors and insurance companies - prepared to aid a new coal mine in the 2020s. A new government could stop the application or the current legal challenge against its permission may force a new decision.

There’s lots we can still do. The last underground coal mine to be permitted in the UK, New Crofton Co-operative Colliery, never started.

"A coal mine needs insurance"

Coal mines have to obtain insurance to operate. If there is no insurance then there is no coal mine.

Financial firms and big investors won’t put money into a project which doesn’t have insurance to ensure that their investments are protected.

Campaigning to stop the insurance of fossil fuels keeps them in the ground

More details

www.coalaction.org.uk/west-cumbria-mine/

https://slacc.org.uk

https://www.cacctu.org.uk/climatejobs

What next?

We've designed cards that you can print at home with short summaries of these answers in case you'd feel happier talking to people about the proposed mine with a reminder with you. Download here.

Good luck

Protest the Mines & Money conference

Global mining companies are coming to London soon attempting to find investors in their ruinous projects at the Mines and Money Conference (28th to 30th November).

Mining companies will be attending the conference incl:

Join with us to oppose these projects and support communities resisting them here and abroad.

WHEN

Tuesday 28th

  • 7.30am - 9.30am: Mines and Money Conference (Business Design Centre 52, Upper St, London, N1 0QH). Message: Stop financing extraction.
  • 12 noon-1pm: Talbot Underwriting (60 Threadneedle St, London EC2R 8HP). Message: Don’t insure EMR Capital/ Proposed West Cumbria Mine
  • 3.30pm - 5.30pm: Mines and Money Conference (Business Design Centre). Message: Stop financing extraction.

Wednesday 29th

  • 7.30am - 9.30 am: Mines and Money Conference (Business Design Centre). Message: Stop financing extraction.

Please banners against mining and profiting from land/climate/ biodiversity loss rather than big logos of your group.

WHAT

We will be outside the conference centre with banners, megaphones, and flyers aimed at investors - feel free to add to that!

WHO

Individuals and campaigners from the following groups are expected:

  • Cumbrians against the Whitehaven coal mine
  • London Mining Network
  • Fossil Free London
  • War On Want
  • Coal Action Network
  • FOE local groups

Why

Updated: 23/11/2023

UK Coal round up

The recent Digest of UK Energy Statistics shows the coal situation for 2022. All unreferenced statistics come from this report and appendices.

Coal was bought by power stations last year in order to fulfil unexpected, short term contracts with the government worth £420 million to extend power station's lives while air quality environmental regulations were not enforced.

In 2022, coal mined in the UK mainly came from opencast coal mines. Production was down on previous years. Now, in September 2023, there is only one operating opencast coal mine, the illegal Ffos-y-fran mine. There is one significant sized deep coal mine; Aberpergwm colliery in Neath Port Talbot, which has been granted permission to expand. From this date there is only one coal power station available to generate electricity, down from 4 last year.

Coal use in power stations

While overall energy demand in 2022 was stable compared to 2021, demand met by coal in the energy mix fell by 15% compared to 2021, to 1.60% of total electricity supply. Wind, solar and hydro energy production rose to a record high level due to increased capacity and more favourable weather conditions, but unfortunately consumption of both gas and nuclear energy were also up.

Coal use in power stations has dropped dramatically since 2012, when 43% of electricity in the UK grid was produced from coal combustion. However, 4 coal power plants remained operational throughout 2022. Drax and West Burton power station's coal units were due to be closed before the end of 2022, but the UK Government paid £420 million to extend the operational lifespan of the coal units over winter 2022 into 2023. Coal stocks were 10% higher than in 2021 to facilitate this. Drax didn't operate in 2022 and is now decommissioning its coal units. It remains a high carbon power station, though, as it burns imported wood as biomass.

Power station closures

4 coal power stations operated in 2022. Now only Ratcliffe-on-Soar remains available to the grid.

Ratcliffe on Soar power station is due to close in September 2024.

In early 2020, Drax power station said there would be "formal closure of the coal units in September 2022". Decommissioning actually started in 2023, after the UK Government paid the power station to be on standby with coal during last winter. Drax didn't operate in 2022 and is now decommissioning its coal units. It remains a high carbon power station as, though, it burns imported wood.

Kilroot coal and oil power station in Northern Ireland is to be converted to gas. It was expected to stop consuming coal in September 2023, but this may have been brought forward marginally (unconfirmed).

West Burton coal power station closed at the end of March 2023 delayed by the UK Government from September 2022.

Coal phase-out in the UK is expected by October 2024. Given that coal consumption in power stations is very low, with periods of no consumption, in the summer, the last generation could be April 2024.

Underground mining

In 2022, coal production fell by 39% to a record low of 0.6 million tonnes, with opencast coal mining producing more than underground mines.[1]

The Scottish Government announced a de-facto ban on coal mining in October 2022, in protest against the expected approval of the Whitehaven coking coal mine. We anticipate this stopped a deep coal mine application by Australian company New Age Explorations at Lochinvar in the Scottish borders. The company hoped to produce coking coal via underground mining until 2044.

Campaigns against proposed underground mines

Aberpergwm Colliery (Energybuild Ltd) in Neath Port Talbot had planning permission for a 42 million tonne extension to its underground (anthracite) coal mine approved in 2018. The Coal Authority issued the coal company a license to extract this coal in January 2022. Coal Action Network are taking legal action against the Welsh Government for failing to stop the mine extension being licenced.

Woodhouse Colliery proposed by West Cumbria Mining Ltd had its proposal for a new 1.78 million tonne per year underground coking coal mine off Whitehaven approved by the Secretary of State in December 2022. The planning approval is subject to 2 legal challenges which are expected to be heard by the High Court in early 2024.

Opencast coal extraction

There are now no legally operating opencast coal mines in the UK.

Glan Lash opencast coal mine, Carmarthenshire (South Wales), had an extension application rejected in September 2023.

In September 2022, Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil, was due to close after 15 years of operation. However, the mine has continued to operate with little action from the local council or Welsh Government. It is now expected to close at the end of November 2023, with no meaningful restoration of the land expected, as the company did not set aside the money to fulfil its contractual obligations in this regard. The guarantee bond of £15 million to be used in case this happens is far short of the estimated £120 million needed for restoration as per the original plan. The coal mining was originally approved by Welsh Government in 2005 as a way to restore a brownfield site at no cost to the public purse, an outcome that now appears remote.

Hartington opencast coal mine, Derbyshire closed at the end of Spring 2023.[2]

Imports

Coal imports rose 38% in comparison with 2021 to 6.4 million tonnes in 2022 as power stations rebuilt stocks after the UK Government payments over winter. The import quantity had been decreasing prior to this government intervention.

In 2022, the USA was the largest exporter of coal to the UK, supplying 39%. This was followed by the Russia with 16%. Russia’s proportion of total coal imports had fallen from being the largest supplier at 43% in 2021.

Coal from the USA was fairly evenly split between coking coal for steelworks and thermal coal for power stations.

Coal from Russia was largely for power stations.

Australia provided 12% of imported coal. 57% of which was for power stations, the rest for steelworks. 10% of coal came from South Africa, which was entirely for power stations. Colombia supplied 7% of imported coal all to power stations.

The European Union supplied 9% of all coal to the UK. This coal is unlikely to have been mined in the EU, it has most likely lost its identity as coal enters and leaves the main coal ports in Europe. Other countries made up the remainder of the imported coal.

The UK banned Russian coal imports in August 2022.

UK steel producers

There are 4 major UK steel producers, 2 of which are using coking coal and produce much higher emissions than the two which recycle scrap steel.

Tata Steel
Port Talbot steel works, in Neath Port Talbot, Wales, is the second biggest UK single site emitter of carbon dioxide.[3] The plant currently uses coking coal to make steel in blast furnaces. In 2022, Tata Steel said the plant had to decarbonise or close. In September 2023, Tata Steel accepted £500 million from the UK Government to transition to electric arc furnace, but job losses are expected.

British Steel
Currently, British Steel’s Scunthorpe plant can use a maximum of 25% to 30% recycled content using Basic Oxygen steelmaking. It currently uses coking coal but is also looking to secure governmental subsidies to build a new electric arc furnace to replace a blast furnace in efforts to decarbonise.

Liberty

Liberty Steel, which has sites in Newport and in Tredegar, has said it aims to become a carbon-neutral steel producer by 2030. The site currently uses Electric Arc Furnaces and recycles scrap metal so does not use coking coal.

Celsa

Celsa’s Cardiff steelworks uses 100% recycled scrap steel in its products and so does not need coking coal.

For more details see our report Coal in Steel.

Want to help in the fight against coal?

References

[1] compiled from Coal Authority, "Production and Manpower Statistics" for 2022

[2] Gov.uk "Coal mining production and manpower returns received by the Coal Authority April to June 2023." (July 2023)

[3] Ember, Coal Free Kingdom (13th November 2019) and Drax Group, Enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future page 39 (2019)

 

Queries and media contact: info @ coalaction . org .uk (without spaces)

Media queries

References

[1] compiled from Coal Authority, "Production and Manpower Statistics" for 2022

[2] Gov.uk "Coal mining production and manpower returns received by the Coal Authority April to June 2023." (July 2023)

[3] Ember, Coal Free Kingdom (13th November 2019) and Drax Group, Enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future page 39 (2019)

Queries and media contact: info @ coalaction . org .uk (without spaces)

“No time for a coal mine” banners appear on all major roads into Cumbria

As thousands of visitors travelled into Cumbria for the busy August bank holiday they were met with a powerful statement: 25 large banners opposing the proposed new coal mine near Whitehaven with the words ‘NO TIME for a COAL MINE’.

The banners, which targeted all the major roads leading into Cumbria on Friday 25th August were unfurled by new anti-coal action group ‘No Time for a Coal Mine’. Leaflets were handed out in in Kendal, Carlisle, Keswick, Kirkby Lonsdale and Penrith and fly posters also appeared.

It is the latest in a series of actions against the proposed 2.78 million tonne-a-year mine which has met with significant local, national and international opposition.

Continues...

Sarah McGowan who was born in Whitehaven and took part in the action says, "We can all see the impacts of climate change. In Cumbria the summer has been a washout since June, while on the Hawaiian island of Maui people escaped firestorms by jumping into the sea. Meanwhile the IPCC has said we simply cannot afford to permit any new coal mines, the UK government is flying in the face of reason. Our banners show the strength of feeling against the coal mine and our determination to keep the coal in the ground. The mine must be stopped.”

West Cumbria Mining Ltd is looking to extract a total of 67 million tonnes of coking coal from under the seabed off Whitehaven right up to 2049. The vast majority of this coal would be exported to foreign steelworks, as it is too high in sulphur to comply with UK and European air pollution regulations.[1]

Continues...

Of the two existing UK steelworks using coal, Tata Steel alone could tolerate small amounts of coal from Whitehaven. Tata Steel is currently negotiating with government for subsidies to decarbonise, ending coal use, or it has threatened closure. If the project goes ahead, the Cumbrian coal would emit more than 200 million tonnes of CO₂, primarily from its use in blast furnaces. Its extraction would result in the release of around 334,000 tonnes of methane even if mine methane capture equipment is used (901,000 tonnes without capture).

So far, 2023 has seen the hottest global temperatures for June and July in recorded history. Hundreds of millions of people across the USA, Europe and Asia have been hit by extreme heat while deadly wildfires have raged through southern Europe, Canada, Russia, Hawaii and beyond.

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The government’s approval of this proposed mine faces two legal challenges, that was due to be heard in the High Court in October 2023. This has recently been delayed pending the outcome of a recent Supreme Court case relating to the oil wells at Horse Hill, Surrey (Finch v Surrey County Council). Both cases relate to consideration of end-use emissions in the Environmental Impact Assessment. If the Supreme Court decides that end-use emissions should be considered, this would greatly increase the chance of the government’s decision on the proposed mine being revoked.

Increasing global temperatures threaten food and water security for many millions of people, endanger lives and will
increase mass migration as areas around the world become uninhabitable. Globally, it is those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis who are already suffering the most.

The banners show the strength of public feeling against the government’s coal proposal, and highlights that there are many people prepared to take action to ensure that the coal remains underground at Whitehaven.

Reference

[1] Cumbria County Council Executive Director - Economy and Infrastructure, Development Control and Regulation Committee Application Reference No:4/17/90077.17

Hearing delayed - challenges against Whitehaven coal mine approval

The hearing of two legal challenges against the government's approval of a 2.78 million tonne a year coking coal mine has been delayed from October, likely into the new year.

Part of both challenges rely on the outcome of a separate judgement from the Supreme Court. A judgment is due on that landmark case, over the decision to allow oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey, brought by campaigner Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group. The Horse Hill challenge was heard by the Supreme Court in June and the court has not yet given judgment.

According to Friends of the Earth "lawyers for Ms Finch argued that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out by developers before planning permission was granted should have accounted for the climate impacts from burning the oil extracted at Horse Hill. These are known as ‘downstream’ or ‘Scope 3’ emissions and were not accounted for during the planning process."

"Downstream emissions are increasingly being left out of environmental impact assessments when planning applications are made for fossil fuel projects, despite the huge climate impacts these projects will inevitably create, the mounting climate crisis and the UK government’s stated commitment to net zero."

"If Ms Finch’s challenge is successful, with the court potentially ruling that decision makers need to take into consideration downstream emissions before approving planning applications, the outcome of the Horse Hill case could have major implications for the future of the Whitehaven coal mine. It could open up new grounds for lawyers to argue against the mine’s approval on the basis that downstream emissions were not considered."

"The Supreme Court is not expected to give its judgment until autumn 2023 at the earliest. When that does eventually happen, the High Court will then set a date for the Whitehaven hearing, but there is likely to be a gap of at least ten weeks between judgment and hearing. Lawyers for Friends of the Earth and SLACC therefore believe a 2024 Whitehaven hearing is increasingly likely." Further details from Friends of the Earth can be read here.

Originally the two legal challenges by South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) and Friends of the Earth were rejected. Then it was decided that the cases will be heard at what’s known as a ‘rolled up’ hearing which in practice this is the same as a trial. As long as permission is given in day one, the trial will last for three days. This was planned  to take place 24th to 26th October 2023. This will now not be heard until a later date.

Friends of the Earth and SLACC launched their legal challenges in January 2023 after Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave planning permission to the new coking mine in December 2022. The organisations were the 2 main parties opposing the coal mine at the planning inquiry which took place in September 2021.

SLACC and Friends of the Earth contend that Mr Gove failed to account for the significant climate impacts of the mine, including the acceptability of carbon credits to offset the mine’s emissions, the international precedent that opening a new mine would set and the impact of opening the mine on the global coal market. For further details of the challenges see https://www.coalaction.org.uk/2023/01/27/legal-challenges-whitehaven/

Upcoming events against proposed Whitehaven coal mine

3rd March, 12 noon community picnic followed by a nature walk at 2pm led by Anna Taylor and Jamie from Cumbria Wildlife Trust.
The picnic is here: 54.528159, -3.607813 (the green space above Saltom Bay). More details to come.

During 2023 there were regular events held in protest against the proposed mine outside of the former Marchon works site, where West Cumbria Mining want to extract coking coal. There have been speakers including Chris Packham, the anti-Fracking Nanas, Trade Unions and others against the proposals. They were a good opportunity to meet others in opposition and may recommence.

Check out previous events here. Come to the next one and show your support for leaving the coal in the ground at this site and all other coal seams.

Please note the events are not organised by Coal Action Network, but a coalition of groups and Cumbria residents. More details will be added when they are available.