As the UK moves towards low-and no-carbon energy, is opening a new coal mine justified?

A new coal mine in West Cumbria was given the green light by the government back in March and is due to begin construction in the new year. 

October 2019 - Initially published on Global Data

Shona Leigh Pope

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Woodhouse colliery is due to begin construction in 2020 in West Cumbria and will be the first deep coal mine in England since Asfordby Pit in 1987.

Coal production will commence in 2022 according to the developer’s West Cumbria Mining (WCM) and has come into criticism by politicians and green campaigners alike as the UK aims to move towards low-and no-carbon energy. 

Despite concerns about the environmental impact being voiced, West Cumbria Mining has stated that the construction of this colliery will greatly benefit the local community and the rest of the UK alike. 

West Cumbria Mining (WCM), who have invested £14.7M into the project-  also claims the colliery will create 500 jobs, provide coking coal for the UK steel industry, and will be closely associated with the mining history and culture of West Cumbria; even being constructed near the former Haig Colliery, which shut in 1986. 

Woodhouse Colliery is planned to extract coking coal from under the sea nearby, with access via the existing Sandwith Anhydrite mine portals. 

Global steel production is dependent on coal. According to the World Coal Association, over 71% of the steel produced today uses coal, Metallurgical coal – or coking coal.  The UK steel industry is no exception to this. 

With uncertainty surrounding the British Steel industry with ongoing Brexit negotiations, supporting the UK’s steel industry is certainly a positive aspect of the development of Woodhouse Colliery.


But does this mean that a new deep coal mine has any place in the UK’s low emission future? 

The emissions saved by not having to ship coking coal from elsewhere have been roughly estimated at 5.3 million tonnes.

However, according to a statement made by author Mike Burners-Lee, an expert on climate change and lecturer at Lancaster University;  the coking coal produced from this mine, when consumed, will emit around 380 million tonnes over its lifetime. 

Underground mining also causes huge amounts of waste earth and rock to be brought to the surface– waste that often becomes toxic when it comes into contact with air and water. Being located within 5 miles of the Sellafield Nuclear Site, pollution and earth movement is already a concern in Cumbria.

The clear advantages of following through on the Woodhouse Colliery are obvious, but the environmental disadvantages cannot be ignored. 

Cumbria has the potential to provide cleaner energy sources; and along with it, employment opportunities for the people of Cumbria.

Reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment should be a top priority in 2019, and while the UK is in the process of phasing out coal, the Woodhouse Colliery simply does not provide enough sustainable advantages to justify the environmental disadvantages. Particularly when there are other, greener opportunities to benefit the residents of West Cumbria.