Cumbria mine: is there a technical need for new coal mines in the UK? - CREDS (2023)

CREDS researchers share their thoughts on the proposed new coal mine in West Cumbria, which would be the first new deep coal mine in the UK in 30 years.

The proposed new coal mine in West Cumbria, which would be the first new deep coal mine in the UK in 30 years, has received considerable levels of media attention in recent weeks. Representing the teams working on two of the relevant themes in CREDS (Decarbonisation of the Steel Industry and ), we have composed our thoughts on the matter here.

Proponents of the mine claim that it will lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing imports of coking coal from the USA, Russia, and AustraliaOpens in a new tab to blast furnaces in the UK and EU. We estimate that transport emissions from the large coking coal mines in West Virginia, USA, to the large integrated steelworks at Port Talbot in South Wales are in the region of 62 kgCO2e per tonne, and that these would be reduced to around 9 kgCO2e per tonne for the proposed transport route from Cumbria. This reduction is only 1.8% of the emissions that arise from using that coal in steelmaking. The reduction increases to 5.4% if it avoids transport from Australia, however the share of coking coal imports to the UK has been moving from Australia to the USA in recent years, and this trend will only increase if the International Maritime Organization implements proposed carbon tax or “feebate”Opens in a new tab schemes to reduce shipping emissions.

(Video) Exclusive: British steel industry leaders do not require coal from proposed Cumbria mine

It should be noted that this analysis does not include the emissions overhead associated with developing a new coal mine and its ultimate decommissioning, rather than continuing to use existing mines. Crucially, it also does not account for the longer-term implications of sending out the message that opening new coal mines is acceptable in the UK, particularly in the same year that the UK hosts the UN’s Climate Change Conference, COP26.

Blast furnaces run continuously for long (e.g., 25-year) “campaigns” between expensive overhauls. The government must be careful not to create the conditions for unabated blast furnace use to continue into new campaigns. The Climate Change Act in the UK does not only provide a net-zero emissions target by 2050, but importantly establishes five-yearly carbon budgets. It is vital to reduce cumulative emissions between now and 2050, but encouraging the continued operation of blast furnaces may jeopardise these targets. The Climate Change Committee has advised the government to target near-zero emissions from steelmakingOpens in a new tab in the UK by 2035.

Instead of transporting coal thousands of kilometres across the ocean or building new coal mines, the UK could take a more forward-thinking approach to steel production, by increasing reuse and recycling and investing in new low carbon steelmaking technologies.

(Video) Backing for new deep coal mine development in Cumbria sparks row | ITV News

Opportunities exist for reducing the UK’s demand for steel, whilst maintaining levels of service through material efficiency in both the production and consumption of steel. Strategies can involveOpens in a new tab optimising design of steel products, lightweighting, improving yields and recovering scrap for reuse on the production side, whilst steel consumption can be reduced by improving product longevity, and encouraging repair, remanufacture, and product sharing. In provisional analysis of material efficiency savings in the UK steel sector, our scenarios achieved reductions of between 16-20% in the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of the sector from 2016-2050 (in addition to savings from technological interventions).

Early action on material efficiency is possible and could be disproportionately effective, given it would reduce the cumulative emissions from the sector at the early stages where emissions intensity is greatest. A scenario of earlier material efficiency further reduced the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of the scenarios by an average 6%. Earlier material efficiency could also help bring the steel industry closer in line with the sectoral carbon budgets outlined by the CCC, reduce reliance on less proven technologies such as CCS and ease demands on hydrogen supply, particularly in light of the likely cross-sectoral competition for these vectors by 2050.

Steel is highly recyclable, and ferrous scrap can be melted down to make new steel in electric arc furnaces, which can be powered with zero-carbon electricity from renewables. In the UK we produce around 34% of new steel from scrapOpens in a new tab compared with 54% in the EU, and yet we are by far the largest scrap steel exporter in Europe, exporting millions of tonnes of ferrous scrap each year to countries such as Turkey, where industrial electricity prices are much lower. This could be avoided by introducing an export tariffOpens in a new tab on scrap steel, trialling and deploying measures to reduce contamination in steel recyclingOpens in a new tab, and ensuring that the cost of carbon applies across the entire economy, including cross-border flows of goods.

(Video) Plan for UK's first deep coal mine in 30 years to be reviewed

One promising zero-carbon steelmaking technology is hydrogen direct reduction of iron, which avoids all use of fossil fuels and instead produces only water as a by-product. Direct reduction of iron (DRI) using natural gas is a mature technology with over 100 DRI plants, pdfOpens in a new tab (15 pages, 4.3 MB) in operation around the world, and so using hydrogen is a case of fuel switching in proven technology. Hydrogen DRI is already being trialled by SSAB in Sweden, and the UK risks being left behind if it does not invest in similar development efforts. To create a market for hydrogen in the intervening period while existing blast furnaces complete their current campaigns, hydrogen injection could be used in blast furnaces to reduce the carbon intensity of steel production. This is already being trialled in GermanyOpens in a new tab by ThyssenKrupp.

Our research suggests that the marginal abatement cost of decarbonising UK steel production using hydrogen-based steelmaking will be less than the traded price of carbon by 2030 at the latest, and by the mid-2020s with central carbon price projections. This analysis uses the UK government’s recent projections of energy system technology costs and carbon prices, and accounts for the energy storage requirements of providing a firm supply of zero-carbon electricity and hydrogen.

Cumbria mine: is there a technical need for new coal mines in the UK? - CREDS (1)

The firm behind the mine, West Cumbria Mining, has said that the mine will create 500 jobs, 400 of which would be filled by people from the local area. However, given that the UK has committed to ending unabated coal generationOpens in a new tab by 2024, and that the Climate Change Committee has advised the government to target near-zero emissions from steelmaking in the UK by 2035, these would be precarious jobs in an industry with no long-term future. Others have noted that the false dichotomy of “prosperity versus the environment”Opens in a new tab is conspicuously evident in Cumbria, which has suffered from devastating flooding in recent years.

(Video) After 200 years, this coal mine is closing - and it's England's last one

Jobs are vital to a region’s economy, and Cumbria has been hit hard in recent years with the closure of a large chemical works and downsizing at the Sellafield nuclear facility (only 8 km from the proposed mine location). However, the area has a precious resource that will be vital to the entire economy as we move towards net-zero: the right conditions for offshore wind.

The latest offshore wind licensing round included a seabed bidding area just off the coast of West Cumbria. While no bids were awarded in that area this time, partnerships between offshore wind developers, the steel industry, and local landowners could make future bids more attractive and lead to jobs in both sectors.

Cumbria mine: is there a technical need for new coal mines in the UK? - CREDS (2)

In the future steel industry, diversification of production facilities could be advantageous to reduce transmission requirements for electricity and hydrogen. Following this line of thought, the government could consider encouraging the deployment of fossil-free iron and steel production sites in areas such as West Cumbria which are fortunate to have the right conditions for offshore wind. Instead of exporting coal, perhaps Whitehaven could manufacture and export green steel, or zero carbon iron briquettes for use in steelmaking facilities elsewhere.

(Video) Kellingley Colliery: Britain's last coal mine closes

Prioritising material efficiency also provides employment benefits in supporting secondary materials markets. Analysis from Green Alliance has assessed the job creation potential of circular economy activities (not limited to the steel sector), estimating the creation of over 200,000 gross jobs by 2030 and reducing unemployment by 54,000Opens in a new tab in a ‘current development’ scenario. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that jobs in these secondary industries would be more regionally dispersedOpens in a new tab, therefore acting to create jobs in those regions where unemployment is greatest. By contrast, in 2019 there were only 1,000 employees in the coal production industryOpens in a new tab in the UK (across all mine types). Other estimates indicate that renewable and energy efficiency industries could yield a job-intensity of around 5-10 jobs per million invested, moreOpens in a new tab than in fossil power sectors.

Banner photo credit: Reading Tom on Flickr


Is the new coal mine in Cumbria going ahead? ›

The mine was approved to operate until 2049 by Cumbria County Council in October 2020, but four months later the authority suspended its decision.

Why do we need a new coal mine in Cumbria? ›

It would provide fuel for the UK's steel-making industry, which currently uses Russian coal. But critics fear it would undermine the UK's climate change targets, which rely on a move away from fossil fuels.

Is there a new coal mine in the UK? ›

Woodhouse Colliery, also known as Whitehaven coal mine, is a proposed coal mine near to Whitehaven in Cumbria, England.
Woodhouse Colliery.
Opened2020 (projected) Full production expected in 2023
CompanyWest Cumbria Mining (WCM)
WebsiteOfficial website
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Why is coal no longer mined in the UK? ›

The pit closures caused coal production to slump to the lowest rate in more than a century, further declining towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. This coincided with initiatives for cleaner energy generation as power stations switched to gas and biomass.

Has the Cumbrian coal mine been approved? ›

Cumbria County Council approved the plans in October 2020 and, for several months, the Government resisted calls to intervene with that decision. But, ultimately, a public inquiry was ordered in March 2021 with the mine's compatibility with national and international climate targets being the key sticking point.

How Long Will UK coal reserves last? ›

This means it has about 2 years of Coal left (at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves).

What will replace coal in UK? ›

UK selects site for prototype fusion energy plant, says it will replace coal-fired facility. The U.K. government says it will provide £220 million (around $249.6 million) of funding for the STEP project's first phase, in which the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority will ready a concept design by 2024.

Will coal mining return to the UK? ›

Now, the UK Government is tacitly supporting a new deep coal mine in England's northwest. West Cumbria Mining has been developing plans for an underground metallurgical coal mine off the coast of Whitehaven since 2014. Woodhouse Colliery, as it is known, was given the go ahead in October 2020 by Cumbria County Council.

Will the UK use coal again? ›

Uniper will also be compensated for costs incurred, including coal purchases, with any additional charges eventually being fed through to consumers' energy bills. The UK government has committed to ending the use of coal power in Great Britain by October 2024, a year earlier than originally planned.

Is coal mining coming back? ›

On paper, they are right: In 2022, coal is likely to account for about 36% of the world's electricity production, down from more than 40% only a few years ago.

Is coal mining making a comeback? ›

' Coal is making a comeback amid the push for the increased use of clean energy by governments, including in the U.S., as Europe has been facing climbing energy costs as the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on.

Where is the new proposed coal mine in Cumbria? ›

The proposed mine at Whitehaven would remove coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for the production of steel in the UK and Europe. The coal would not be used for power generation.

How many years of coal are we expected to have left? ›

Based on U.S. coal production in 2021, of about 0.577 billion short tons, the recoverable coal reserves would last about 435 years, and recoverable reserves at producing mines would last about 21 years. The actual number of years that those reserves will last depends on changes in production and reserves estimates.

How long has UK gone without coal? ›

On 16th June 2020, the UK came to the end of a 67-day, 22-hour, 55-minute coal-free streak, a remarkable period which saw us go for over two months without using any coal-fired power for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

How many years left until we run out of coal? ›

Coal and natural gas are expected to last a little longer. If we continue to use these fossil fuels at the current rate without finding additional reserves, it is expected that coal and natural gas will last until 2060.

What is the biggest coal mine in the UK? ›

Kellingley Colliery
Coordinates53°42′19″N 1°12′24″W
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What is the deepest mine shaft in the UK? ›

The World's Only Polyhalite Mine | ICL Boulby > How Deep is Boulby Mine? Our mine here at ICL UK is the deepest mine in the UK and the second deepest mine in Europe. It takes around seven minutes to be taken to the bottom of the mine in the man shaft elevator, and the temperature reaches highs of 40 degrees.

What is the largest mine in the UK? ›

Locations. WINSFORD, CHESHIRE, U.K. The Winsford rock salt mine is the U.K.'s largest and oldest working mine. It lies approximately 150 meters under the Cheshire countryside and has a fascinating history, which began in 1844 when local prospectors were searching for coal.

What would happen if coal reserves run out? ›

It will affect global transportation and international trade

Our major transportation systems, including trucking, rail and sea transportation of goods, depend greatly on fossil fuels. Without diesel and bunker fuel, large-scale international trade would have no choice but to shut down.

Will coal run out in 50 years? ›

It is predicted that we will run out of fossil fuels in this century. Oil can last up to 50 years, natural gas up to 53 years, and coal up to 114 years. Yet, renewable energy is not popular enough, so emptying our reserves can speed up.

Will coal ever run out? ›

According to the World Coal Association, there are an estimated 1.1 trillion tonnes of coal reserves across the world. At our current rates of production and consumption, there is enough coal to last us 150 years. By around 2168, coal will be no more (unless we discover new deposits which push that date back).

Can you make electricity without coal? ›

A biomass plant operates in a very similar way to gas- and coal-fired power plants. Instead of burning gas or coal, the plant is fuelled by different forms of biomass (such as purpose-grown trees, wood chips, domestic waste, or 'biogas'). In 2017, biomass generated 2.3% of the world's electricity.

What power will be used instead of coal? ›

As incomes continued to rise, however, coal was slowly replaced with more efficient, convenient, and less polluting fuels such as oil, nuclear energy, natural gas, and, more recently, renewable energy.

Is there anything that can replace coal? ›

"Wind, solar could replace coal power in Texas: Study shows how proposed projects could eliminate need for coal, drastically cut pollution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2022.

Will Germany go back to coal? ›

Germany plans to reopen 6.9 gigawatts of coal and 1.9 gigawatts of lignite capacity to boost supplies, in a move that will slow down country's targets of a gradual exit from the fuel until 2038.

How much coal is left under the UK? ›

The UK has identified hard coal resources of 3 910 million tonnes, although total resources could be as large as 187 billion tonnes.
United Kingdom.
Coal resources and reservesas at 19.6.2019
Total resources hard coalMt3 910
Total resources ligniteMt1 000
Reserves hard coalMt377

Can you make steel without coal? ›

Now, nearly all new steel globally is produced using iron oxide and coking coal. Coking coal is usually bituminous-rank coal with special qualities that are needed in the blast furnace. While an increasing amount of steel is being recycled, there is currently no technology to make steel at scale without using coal.

Is coal cheaper than gas UK? ›

In summary, wood is cheaper than most other fuels.
Comparing fuel prices: is wood cheaper than electricity, gas, oil and coal?
FuelCost (pence/kWh)
1 more row
20 Nov 2012

Does the UK have any mothballed coal fired power stations? ›

Drax, which mothballed the coal-fired units at its North Yorkshire power station in 2021, said it still expected to close them completely in September 2022, "but remains committed to supporting security of supply in the UK".

What is the future of coal 2022? ›

U.S. coal production in the forecast increases by 20 million short tons (MMst) in 2022 to total 598 MMst for the year. We expect coal production will fall to 581 MMst in 2023.

How much unmined coal is left? ›

Coal Reserves in the United States

The United States has proven reserves equivalent to 347.7 times its annual consumption. This means it has about 348 years of Coal left (at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves).

What happens to coal mines when they are abandoned? ›

Many abandoned coal mines and hardrock mines emit acid mine drainage. This takes place because the rocks associated with both types of mines often contain metal sulfides, such as pyrite. When the rock or coal deposits are excavated, the sulfides are exposed to water and oxygen, and react to form sulfuric acid.

Will coal prices go up in 2022 UK? ›

ANZ Research forecast Newcastle coal price to increase to $400/tonne in December this year from $375 in September. In a note on 23 September, ANZ expected that Newcastle coal could average $353 in 2022, falling to $334 in 2023 and $135 in 2024.

Is new coal forming? ›

The process of coal formation is still taking place today, says Bailey. "The precursor to coal is called peat, and that is just uncompressed plant matter." Peat accumulates in wet swampy environments known as mires, and that process is taking place today in areas such as Indonesia and even the Antiplano in the Andes.

Will coal prices go up 2022? ›

After a projected sharp increase in 2022, natural gas and coal prices are expected to moderately decline in 2023, although they will remain much higher than their five-year average.

Who owns Cumbria coal mine? ›

Cayman Island's private equity fund EMR Capital Resources Fund 1 LP is the majority owner of the West Cumbria Mining (WCM) Group and the Whitehaven mine, having acquired its controlling interest in June 2014. The fund owns the WCM Group holding company called EMR Capital Investment (No. 3B) Pte.

Do they still mine coal at Leigh Creek? ›

Leigh Creek is a former coal-mining town in eastern central South Australia.

What type of coal is in Cumbria? ›

West Cumbria coals are known to be high volatile, hard coking coal.

Can I still burn coal in 2023? ›

Advice to customers. You should tell your customers that traditional house coal will no longer be available from 1 May 2023. You should advise your customers between 1 May 2021 and 1 May 2023 on the best manufactured solid fuel for them to switch to.

What will happen if we run out of petrol and diesel? ›

A lack of petroleum could easily destabilize world-wide relations and lead to a major war. Also, large oil reliant suppliers of such goods as plastics, heating oil, kerosene, and construction material would be at a loss for the necessary raw materials.

What percentage of UK electricity comes from coal? ›

Primary oil (crude oil and Natural Gas Liquids) accounted for 42% of total production, natural gas 29%, primary electricity (consisting of nuclear, wind, solar and hydro) 16%, bioenergy and waste 12%, while coal accounted for the remaining 1%.

When was the last coal mine shut in the UK? ›

The last operating deep coal mine in the United Kingdom, Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire, closed in December 2015.

Why does the UK not use coal? ›

Both the government and National Grid ESO have committed to phasing out coal power completely by 2024 to cut carbon emissions. However, coal is still used when it is better value than gas.

Is the Carmichael mine going ahead? ›

Investment giant says coal miner has revealed Carmichael closure plan.

Where is the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria? ›

The proposed mine at Whitehaven would remove coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for the production of steel in the UK and Europe. The coal would not be used for power generation.

Is the New Straitsville mine still burning? ›

In 1884, striking miners pushed burning coal cars into a mine owned by the New Straitsville Mining Company, setting the mine ablaze. The fire still burns underground to this day.

Where is the deepest mine in the UK? ›

Boulby is a worki​ng potash, polyhalite and rock-salt mine operated by ICL-UK. Reaching 1,400m at its deepest point, it is the deepest mine in Great Britain.

What happens to a mine when it closes? ›

Eventually, once the most accessible and valuable materials have been extracted, the mine is closed, and the site must be restored back to its original state. This includes covering up mine entrances, replanting grass and trees, and testing surrounding water, soil, and air for contaminants.

Are coal fires being phased out? ›

The sale of the most polluting fuels burned in household stoves and open fires will be phased out in England from next year to clean up the air, the government has said.

What is the deadliest mine in the world? ›

The Zasyadko Mine is one of the most dangerous coal mines in the world due to naturally high levels of gas (particularly methane) and coal dust explosion hazards. Additionally, gradual exhaustion made the mine as large as having 6 shafts and, most importantly, very deep.

What will replace coal in the future? ›

Cleaner alternatives like natural gas can also help bridge the energy transition towards a greener future. Carbon capture and storage technology may be a viable solution to ease the transition away from coal, but it is currently less cost-competitive than other low-carbon energy sources such as solar and wind.


1. First deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years
(Channel 4 News: Extra)
2. End of an era as Britain's last deep coal mine closes
(AFP News Agency)
3. Government promises to cut emissions - but considers more coal mines
(Sky News)
4. The Cumbria Coal Mine Debacle, UK Climate Policy & Other Snafus - Chris Friedler of Decarbonise Now
(EcoCore - Carbon Allowances)
5. UK hosts COP26 climate summit amid debate to open new coal mine | DW News
(DW News)
6. Third Deepest Coal Mine in Great Britain
(IKS Exploration)
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