Towards a Minerals Local Plan for Derbyshire and Derby

Towards a Strategy for Deep Mined Coal

Coal Mining Issues

3       Coal Mining Issues

3.1    This paper summarises the history of deep mined coal in Derbyshire where the industry effectively ceased by the early 1990s. Today the only remaining deep mine is the small drift mine at Eckington. The reasons for this decline would suggest that the likelihood of a resumption of deep coal mining in the foreseeable future is limited. Many of the older deep mines closed down because the reserves were exhausted or for technical/geological reasons, which made further extraction impossible or too expensive. Other, newer mines closed down with reserves still available but this was at a time when extraction costs were high compared to other sources of fuel. The costs involved in re-opening those mines would be high and the opening of a new mine would involve a considerable capital investment.  However, reserves which could be worked by deep-mining remain in the Plan area, and therefore remains an issue which should be addressed in the new Plan.

3.2    Whilst the prospects of further deep mine coal extraction are limited, the main issues to be addressed in the new Minerals Local Plan are similar to those for surface mined coal. They centre around how much coal remains in Derbyshire, how economical it could be to work those resources, taking account of the demand for coal over the Plan period (to 2030), the cost and availability of imported supplies and the economic, environmental and social impacts of extracting the coal set against the potential benefits. These issues will also be influenced by Government energy policy which seeks to move the UK economy to a lower carbon/fossil fuel base due to climate change considerations. The resolution of these issues will lead to the development of policies against which proposals for new coal mining developments will be judged.

3.3    The demand for coal saw prices rise significantly from the low levels in the mid-1980s, however, the high level of supply from overseas has seen the price drop significantly again in the last 18 months. The price of coal has a significant effect on indigenous production and the volatility in price causes difficulties for forecasting future production levels. The impact of the Large Combustion Plant Directive[1] will also affect the future demand for coal. The Directive is part of the European Unions’ drive towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and requires all of the UKs coal-fired power stations which were in operation before 1987 to undergo a series of staged emission reduction measures by 2015 and 2023 (dates originally stipulated) in order to remain in operation.  It is not yet clear how the energy generating companies will respond, which adds to the uncertainty about the future role of coal.  One potential approach to resolving the emissions problem is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)[2] in which carbon dioxide is removed (captured) from the emissions from a power station and stored (usually underground) where it cannot contribute to future greenhouse effects. In March 2013 the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Defra) announced the two preferred bidders (Peterhead in Scotland and Drax in North Yorkshire) to develop pilot projects at the power stations to fully establish the effectiveness of the technology. These pilot projects are now underway and in August 2014 Defra published a policy consultation document ‘Next Steps in CCS: Policy Scoping Document, Developing an approach for the next phase of Carbon Capture & Storage projects in the UK’ to continue and assist the research.

3.4    The experience in the Plan area of processing planning applications for coal mining developments in recent years has been focused on surface mining rather than deep mining. However, many, if not all, of the issues raised in response to the publicity on these developments could equally to potential deep mine developments.

3.5    In response to previous applications for surface coal working proposals the main concerns  you have raised which would apply to deep mined coal extraction relate to the issues of need, impact on the environment, impact on health, impacts from the transport of coal, the quality of restoration, the level of benefits of coal mining set against the adverse impacts and most importantly, the cumulative impacts of further mining in the context of the long-term historical effects on the area of previous coal mining operations and other traditional heavy industries.  Correspondence relating to older mining developments indicates that subsidence would be an additional concern. Other additional issues include managing hazards from old mine workings, the treatment and pumping of underground water, monitoring and prevention of emissions of gas and the method and location of disposing of colliery spoil.

3.6    Some comments on surface mining developments expressed the view that there is now a very limited need for further coal working in this country due to the availability of imported coal and the move towards alternative and renewable sources of energy generation. Others suggested that the benefits of further working would be very limited and could not offset the adverse effects on communities and the environment. On the issue of cumulative impacts, some respondents indicated that, in some areas, the tipping point had already been reached and that no further development (including further coal mining and other major developments with potentially significant adverse impacts) could be acceptable.

3.7    Based on the summary above, the factors which need to be taken into account and the issues to be addressed in developing an approach for the provision of deep mined coal and the policies which will apply in the assessment and determination of future planning applications for coal development over the Plan period relate to:

  • the volatility of the price of coal
  • the impact of the Large Combustion Plant Directive on the future demand for coal
  • the role of CCS in enabling coal to continue to be used as a raw material for the generation of electricity
  • the need for indigenous coal against the availability of imported sources at lower prices
  • the limited amount of information available to the Councils about the location and level of coal reserves in the area and the economic viability of extraction
  • the future, if any, of deep mine working in the country as a whole
  • the adverse impacts of subsidence from deep mined coal extraction
  • the scale of further surface working during the Plan period
  • the impact of extraction on the environment and local communities, particularly the cumulative impact on those communities with a long history of previous mining activities or other traditional industries which have had an adverse impact on the area concerned
  • the development of a policy approach, including detailed criteria, which would be used to assess and determine future coal extraction applications
  • the definition of potential benefits, how they should be assessed and the role to be played in the determination of proposals for new working
  • the development of policies to be adopted to inform and guide the reclamation of extraction sites to acceptable standards
  • the overriding requirement of the NPPF that all local plans take full account of the viability and deliverability of their proposals and do not impose restrictions that adversely affect these requirements.

 

Do you agree that this list encompasses all the coal mining related issues which need to be taken into consideration in the Minerals Local Plan? If you think that there are also other issues that need to be taken into consideration, please state what they are and explain the reasons for your answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD, 2001/80/EC) which applies to combustion plants with a thermal output of 50 MW or more.

[2] Department of Energy & Climate Change: UK Carbon Capture and Storage, Government funding and support project 2012.