Press release from Loose Anti Opencast Network, 30 January 2015
Yesterday afternoon MPs debated the issue of un-restored opencast coal sites that exist across England, Scotland and Wales in a debate entitled “Opencast Coal Sites (Restoration)” (1) . MPs from Wales, Scotland and England gave example after example of where there are un-restored opencast sites, or there was a risk that current working sites would be left un-restored or only partially restored. It’s only when the sums of money quoted in the debate are totted up, that the true scale of the cost of correcting this UK-wide environmental disaster becomes clear. It adds up to over a staggering £469m pounds – and is probably an underestimate!
Mathew Hancock, the Energy Minister, did not dispute that there was a real problem here and he agreed to “work with all parties on this. I look forward to working with Treasury civil servants and, I hope, Ministers, but also with Members in the House today, with the Coal Authority, which has an important role to play, and with devolved Administrations and local government. “ (2)
However as was pointed out in the debate by Madeleine Moon MP, who had moved the debate, “..There are currently 34 open-cast mines across the UK—17 in Scotland, nine in south Wales and eight in England…” (3)
Given that these figures include some of the sites currently working which have been quoted as having inadequate Restoration Bond cover such as Potland Burn in Northumberland and East Pit in Neath Port Talbot for example, it begs the question as to whether more sites are at risk of being left in a partial or wholly un-restored state.
LAON’s fears are further justified by looking at the price of coal. In a recent inquiry held by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, evidence was provided that UK Coal Operators needed a coal selling price of between £52.50 and £55 per tonne in Europe to be profitable. (4) The spot price for coal sold in Europe is now below £40 per tonne and a recent report notes than Russian coal can be sold in the UK for as little as £33 per tonne. (5)
In addition LAON knows of three more sites where approval has been given, but no work has yet commenced on the site: these are the 10m tonne Cauldhall Moor site in Midlothian the 1.275m tonne site at Shortwood Farm in Nottinghamshire and the 752,000 tonne Fernybeds site in Northumberland.
On top of this there are at least 12 more proposals for more opencast sites in the public domain. In Wales, there are plans for new opencast mines at the 1.2m tonne Bryn Defaid site in Rhondda, the 6m tonne Nant Llesg site in Caerphilly and the 350,000 tonne Varteg site in Torfaen.
In England there are plans for new opencast sites at the 500,000 tonne Bradley site in Co Durham, the 1.18m tonne site at Deanfield in Wakefield, 190,00 tonne Dearn Lea site in Kirklees, the 500,000 tonne Field House Farm site in Co Durham, the 450,000 tonne Great Oak site in Staffordshire, the 5m tonne site at Highthorn in Northumberland , the 130,000 tonne Hilltop Project site in Derbyshire and possibly the 1.0m tonne Marley Hill site on the boundary of Gateshead and Co Durham if there is an appeal over the rejection of the application by Durham County Council
In Scotland there are plans for new opencast sites at the 191,000 tonne Greenhill site in Falkirk and the proposed Canonbie site in Dumfries and Galloway.
Under present circumstances, these must all be considered risky propositions, but the price of coal is not a material planning consideration. Until it or something like it is, LAON suggests, the taxpayer could be looking at a much bigger environmental cost than £469m being mooted to sort out the current cost of restoring the land, if any of these proposed sites gets planning permission.
Steve Leary for The Loose Anti Opencast Network said:
“We have been watching this crisis unfold for a number of years and the known cost of putting right this UK wide disaster has now risen to reach this incredible figure of £469m.
“I’m sure that when decisions were being made about the sites concerned, one of the main arguments used to justify them gaining planning permission was the need to mine this coal to provide the UK with Energy Security. It seems that Energy Security has been bought at too cheap a price.
“However, even after this debate has thrown some light on the scale of devastation caused by opencast mining, we still seem to be sleepwalking into making the situation worse rather than better, with plans for at least 12 more sites. Given the current price of coal, there needs to be an audit undertaken of all current sites plus those with planning permission but not yet worked, to ensure that there is not going to be any further shortfall in monies available to restore the sites.
Secondly to ensure that no further environmental disasters on this scale happen again, there should be a moratorium on progressing all new opencast coal site applications until all the UK Governments are assured that the methods used to ensure that restoration bonds are adequate, that they are professionally costed and are based on a pre-payment system or an insurance bond. An agreement on the value and type of Restoration Bond should be made at the time approval is granted and not be decided on, behind closed doors, after the planning approval has been given.
“Lastly, this part of the history of opencast mining provides a salutary lesson in what can go wrong when permission is granted to exploit fossil fuels. Those who oppose fracking because they do not trust the ability of the planning system to properly control the operators of sites wishing to exploit shale gas, may find justification for their fears when they look at this opencast coal history.”
1) “Opencast Coal Sites (Restoration)” (Hansard, 29/1/14, Columns 1090 – 1110) @ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150129/debtext/150129-0004.htm
2) Column 1109 op cit
3) Column 1090 op cit
4) In evidence to this Committee earlier this year John Grogan, Chairman of Hatfield Colliery indicated that UK coal producers needed a price of between £52.50 – £55.00 per tonne:
Q5 Chair: “So, is there a sort of figure you have in mind about the balance between imports and domestically-produced coal that would be right?”
John Grogan: “International coal is now below £50 a tonne. We have a contract for next year—I would be reluctant to publicly give the figures, but I am going to give them to the Committee privately if that is acceptable, Chairman—but we are somewhat above that. Looking at the coal industry as a whole, 10% or 20%, above that are the sorts of figures that domestic coal producers would probably be negotiating with the coal-fired power stations. The pound could change that amount in the next two or three years—that would make that difference.
Energy and Climate Change Committee Oral evidence: Deep coal mining in the UK, HC 378, Wednesday 9 July 2014 @ http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/energy-and-climate-change-committee/deep-coal-mining-in-the-uk/oral/11341.html
5) “Russian thermal coal cost $50 a ton to deliver to Europe on Jan. 7, compared with $83 in June, Citigroup Inc. said Jan. 14 in a note.”
At a Sterling / Dollar rate of £1: $1.51 equals £33.11
‘Coal Keeps Dropping as OPEC-Like Tactic Stymied by Dollar’ (Bloomberg, 30/1/14 @ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-30/coal-keeps-dropping-as-opec-like-tactic-stymied-by-dollar
INFORMATION ABOUT THE LOOSE ANTI OPENCAST NETWORK
The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It is a UK and Northern Ireland wide network of 30 local community groups opposed to local opencast mine proposals / operations. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications and works with groups where local people feel that such a development is inappropriate.
Steve Leary, LAON’s Spokesperson, at email@example.com
Tel 05601 767981 or 07711501215
You can now follow LAON on twitter @ http://twitter.com/seftonchase
GROUPS IN THE NETWORK
Coal Action Network
Whittonstall Action Group, Northumberland,
North Pennine Protection Group, Northumberland,
Pont Valley Network, Co Durham,
Pittington Residents Group Co Durham,
Newton Lane Action Group, Leeds,
Residents Against Birklands, Gateshead
Cowley Residents Group, Sheffield ,
Skelmansthorpe Action Group, Kirklees
Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition, Nottinghamshire,
West Hallum Environment Group, Derbyshire,
Smalley Action Group, Derbyshire,
Hilltop Action Group, Derbyshire,
Minorca Opencast Protest Group, Leicestershire,
Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast, Staffordshire,
Stop Opencast at Sharlston, Wakefield and
Alumwell Action Group. Walsall
Just Say No to Lignite, N Ireland,
Coal Action Scotland
Mining and Environment Group, East Ayrshire
Saline Parish Hub, Fife
Stop Cauldhall Opencast, Midlothian