6 reasons why “UK coal is climate-friendly” is a load of “goaf”

Banks Group, the mining company seeking to open three projects in the North East has started to sound like a broken record. While there are a million things you can say against new opencast coal extraction, Banks’s PR advisors have found them one tasty line to pedal which makes it sound like common sense to open new coal sites amid a climate emergency:

‘If we don’t get coal from the UK, we’ll get it from abroad which will have a higher carbon footprint. Our coal is the climate friendly alternative!’

In case this doesn’t already read as nonsense to you, let me break it down:

1. Coal contributes to the climate emergency regardless of where it is dug up. Banks Group’s coal routes are being monitored and it is going to West Burton Power station. Coal is the fuel that contributes most to global heating per unit of energy produced. This dwarfs the emissions from transport of coal.

2. The UK is awash with coal; Banks Group are not plugging a gap.There is nearly three times the volume of coal already dug up, sitting above ground than power stations can realistically burn before they are due to close in 2024. No matter where it is from, it is surplus to the UK’s demand and therefore is adding additional coal to global stocks, which will be sold to whoever will buy them. The UK must stop digging up AND importing coal. How has this happened? Because renewables have replaced coal.

3. Dodgy economics. The idea that UK coal displaces coal from elsewhere, and is therefore somehow ‘neutral’ has been debunked numerous times by leading resource economists. The remaining proponents of this idea are by and large, fossil fuel companies. If a mining company thinks opening their mine is ‘carbon neutral’, they must be able to show which mine in Russia or USA will close as a result. Banks have not done this. The evidence is clear: UK coal production went down this year but imports didn’t fill that space as Banks claimed they would, they went down too – because no one wants more coal, from anywhere.

4. Unburnable carbon. A recent UN report shows that if the world continues to take the approach that Banks Group advocates for, then we will not keep global emissions below 1.5 degrees by 2030, and not avert climate disaster.

5. Undeclared methane emissions. Banks cannot claim to know the climate cost of their coal because they haven’t declared their methane emissions from the opencast coal site itself. Transport emissions account for a small proportion of emissions from a mine, yet this is the only thing Banks bases it’s claim on when it says that its coal is cleaner. Methane leakage from coal mines last year contributed more to global heating than aviation and shipping combined. Methane emissions vary wildly per mine, and sometimes they can be greater than the emissions from burning the coal. Banks have done no assessment of methane emissions from any of their current or proposed sites.

Banks Group add that their coal is needed, it’s no longer going to power stations, “it’s all going to steel”.

6. Coal from Bradley is not going to steel according to all publicly available information.  Only 14% of the coal at Bradley has been declared high enough quality for steel, and the current worked seam (which also runs through the proposed West Bradley) was assessed as ‘poor quality’ (i.e. not suitable for steel). We monitor the trains from their stockpile at Blyth, and can see none going to steel and cement works, instead they are going to West Burton Power Station. Even if it was being sold for steel production, steelworks and cement works sell coal on to power stations – so Banks can never be sure where all of their coal ends up.

There’s plenty more we could say about the claim that coal is needed for steel, but that’s for another day! In the mean time, this report by the Green Alliance covers it brilliantly.

And what does ‘goaf’ mean? It’s the process of letting the remains around the dug out coal seam fall into the void, like the miners did when they originally deep mined the Bradley site. A site which has already been ‘goafed’ is one without much substance left in it to mine, a little like a mining company that is attempting to style itself a climate saviour in 2020.

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