Exclusive: Case for Cumbrian mine undermined by doubt over UK market for coking coal

·2-min read
The mine would cease operating by 2049, just one year ahead of the deadline for the country to become carbon neutral
The mine would cease operating by 2049, just one year ahead of the deadline for the country to become carbon neutral

Uncertainty over whether coking coal from a controversial proposed mine in Cumbria can be used by the UK steel industry has raised fresh doubt over the project.

Cumbria County Council are currently reviewing their decision to give planning approval for the UK's first deep coal mine in 30 years, following criticism from environmental groups.

The Government declined to intervene in the decision, but ministers have maintained that the mine could help save transport emissions by supplying the domestic steel industry.

West Cumbria Mine has said around 13 per cent of the coal is expected to go to British Steel and Tata Steel, split equally, with the rest to be exported.

But planning documents seen by The Telegraph reveal that doubts were raised early on in the approval process over the high sulphur content of the coal, which could be an impediment to its use by both companies.

In an email sent to Cumbria County Council a representative from British Steel said: "The sulphur content of the coal is an issue for British Steel currently due to our operations and blend sulphur limit."

The Council later concluded that “the level of sulphur content would need to be managed to supply a product currently suitable for British Steel, and it is not clear whether this can be achieved,” but went ahead to grant planning permission.

Doubts over the quality of the coal also raises questions of whether it will be competitive on the global market.

The Government is under pressure to take action over the proposed mine as it hosts a meeting of the 34-nation Powering Past Coal Alliance on Tuesday, amid warnings that it could undermine the November Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.

Steel industry insiders say there is plentiful supply of coking coal for current steel demands, which are expected to drop as companies decarbonise their processes.

Steel recycling is expected to treble in the next 30 years, and the first pilot projects are under way to replace the need for coking coal with hydrogen.

“The market for coking coal is going to collapse, probably rapidly,” said Julian Allwood, a professor of energy and environment at the University of Cambridge.

The mine has been criticised by the Government's climate change advisers, as well as international climate scientists, but has the backing of local politicians.

Last month more than 40 Tory MPs from across the country and several Northern mayors wrote to Cumbria County Council urging them to give the green light for the mine, which is expected to provide hundreds of jobs.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting