UK to open first coal mine for 30 years

UK to open first coal mine for 30 years
Credit: West Cumbria Mining Company.

For the first time in 30 years, the UK Government has given permission for the construction of a new deep coal mine, despite concerns about its impact on the country's climate ambitions.

The mine, called the "Woodhouse Colliery" project, will be built in the county of Cumbria, northwest England, on the site of an old chemical factory in Whitehaven. Coal will be brought up from under the Irish Sea.

"This coal will be used for the production of steel and would otherwise need to be imported. It will not be used for power generation," a spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the BBC after UK Minister Michael Gove granted permission. "The mine seeks to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the wider economy."

The project dates back to 2014 but has reappeared on the UK government agenda in recent years. Building the mine would take around two years and the aim is for it to be operational for 50. The project will reportedly create more than 500 jobs.

A black mark for the environment

In 2019, the cost of the project was estimated at over £165 million (about €191 million). After five years, the mine is expected to reach its peak production of approximately 2.7 million tonnes of coal per year. The original plans state that more than 80% of the annual production would be destined for export.

While proponents argue the project will create many jobs in a region that has been hit hard economically by the closure of mines and factories in past decades, opponents point out that the construction of a coal mine goes against the global fight against climate change.

Greenhouse gases from coal combustion – such as in steel and power plants – are the single biggest contributor to climate change. Reducing and ceasing the use and production of coal entirely is seen as crucial to meeting climate goals.

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Unsurprisingly, the decision has angered environmental organisations and opposition parties, but the UK's independent climate committee has also protested against the decision. In recent years, it has been vocal in its opposition to the mine and the fact that permission has nevertheless been granted is not well received.

"Phasing out coal use is the clearest requirement of the global effort towards Net Zero. This decision grows global emissions," said John Gummer, chair of the Climate Change Committee. Net Zero refers to the ambitious climate goals announced by the UK government, which passed laws to bring the emission of all greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. However, critics argue that the construction of this coal mine undermines all credibility.

In the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, 1.2 million people once worked in nearly 3,000 coal mines. The last mine closed in 2015.

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