End of the Cumbrian coalmine?

Central Government, Communities, Fossil fuels

End of the Cumbrian coalmine? In December 2022, the levelling up secretary Michael Gove MP, approved plans to build the
Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven. He said the UK would need the coal in order to carry on making steel. However, newly revealed documents, drafted around the same time at the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), say the opposite.

According to these papers, officials predicted with “high certainty” that technology such as electric arc furnaces will lead to the successful decarbonisation of UK steel production by 2035. Friends of the Earth Tony Bosworth said: “This new information blows a gaping hole in the government’s case for supporting the proposed Cumbria coalmine. Now we discover that at the same time, government officials had ‘high certainty’ about the industry’s move away from coal.”

The documents were disclosed to Friends of the Earth by the Department for EnergySecurity and Net Zero (DESNZ), as part of legal action the environmental campaign group is taking against the government’s climate plan. The £165m Woodhouse Colliery would create 500 jobs locally although much of the coal would be exported as it contains high levels of sulphur which means it is unsuitable for UK and EU steelmakers. Supporters claimed it was a means of “levelling up” deprived parts of north-west England.

Gove overruled significant opposition to the project including from senior colleagues in his own party. These included Sir Alok Sharma, the Tory MP for Reading West, who was the President of Cop26, when it took place in Glasgow in October and November 2021.

Opposition was also expressed by Lord Debden (formerly John Selwyn Gummer) then chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC). According to a projection by the CCC, the mine would add 400,000 tonnes of CO 2  emissions every year. The closure of the UK’s last remaining blast furnaces, British Steel’s site in Scunthorpe and Tata Steel’s in Port Talbot have cast further doubts on the case for the mine. 

Meanwhile an interesting point is made by DF Alexander of Sheffield. In last Saturday’s Yorkshire Post he points out that Sheffield and Rotherham Steel is produced in electric arc furnaces. Tata Steel in South Wales has been offered £500m to produce steel in arc furnaces which is unfair competition! So, could this be the end of the Cumbria coalmine? We will have to wait and see.

More from the Guardian on this story: Government documents said to blow gaping hole in its case for Cumbrian coalmine
Details of the Greenpeace legal action here.