Banks Blog 4: Coal mined in the UK creates fewer greenhouse emissions than coal mined abroad, by George Oldroyd, Banks Mining

May 23, 2019 | Blog News

Pictured above: George Oldroyd, graduate planner, Banks Mining & one of The Banks Group's bloggers, in front of a graphic showing the demand for coal in the UK over the last few years

If you have been watching or listening to the news recently, you will have undoubtedly noticed that in and amongst the segments on the birth of the Royal baby and the dreaded ‘B’ word, there has been a lot of talk about climate change and the increased pressure on the UK Government to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

This is an issue that we need to tackle with great urgency if we are to preserve this planet for our future, so that we and future generations can grow old gracefully and safely.

One thing that I am really keen to share with you is what Banks Mining is doing to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As you will have seen from Will Allman’s previous blog post here, the UK has a continued demand for coal and other raw materials like fireclay so that we can produce the materials that we need to build our houses, hospitals and schools as well as all the infrastructure that surrounds us so that we can go about our day-to-day lives. Therefore, as a company, we are promoting the production and transportation of this country’s own coal resource as opposed to importing coal.

You are probably asking yourself now, how does producing and transporting home-grown coal reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Not a lot of people know this now

There is still a great demand for coal in this country as well as other developed economies, so that we can continue to manufacture steel and cement. In my first year at Banks, I have learnt that coal is a vital part of the steel making process. Although steel can be recycled without coal, at the moment, there is no large scale way of producing steel without using coal. So my view is that, if there is such a great demand for coal, then why on earth are we importing it from coal mines that are located thousands of miles away in Russia, the USA and Australia? Surely it makes more sense to use our own resource which is located much nearer to the end user.

In 2018, the total demand for coal in the UK was almost 12 million tonnes. However, just over 80% of this coal was imported. This importation of coal has had huge implications on global greenhouse gas emissions! Our main sources of coal were from Russia and the USA (around eight million tonnes!!). The coal imported from Russia has to travel well over 3,000 miles which emits over five times the amount of greenhouse gases than if we transported coal from our own sites to the power stations or steel works.

In fact, did you know that we can produce the coal, transport it and restore our sites for fewer emissions than the transportation alone from coal imports from Russia and Australia?!!

Banks Mining applied for a surface mining scheme at a place called Highthorn in Northumberland back in 2016 to extract coal which would have been used to produce electricity, steel and cement (such a versatile product). This application was called-in by the Secretary of State so that he could determine the outcome. Unfortunately he decided to refuse the application despite the project being unanimously recommended for approval by the Council’s planning committee and the government’s own planning inspector. This refusal led to a legal challenge to the Secretary of State’s decision which was overturned in the High Court.

However, what I find most concerning is the effect that this decision has had on climate change. This is because the UK has substituted the local coal that would have been produced by Highthorn by increasing the amount of coal that we import. In fact, since Highthorn was refused by the Secretary of State, the UK has imported over 22 million tonnes of coal, even though the entire Highthorn site would have produced just three million tonnes.

Isn’t politics bizarre!

Subsequently, the refusal of Highthorn has led to increased global greenhouse gas emissions from just the transportation of these imports, never mind the production.

I agree with Greta!

Greta Thunberg is the remarkable 16 year old who traveled by train from Sweden to address the UK Parliament on their failure in tackling climate change and what more needs to be done.

Ms Thunberg highlighted the fact that although the UK Government takes pride in their figures which show the country reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, these are not entirely accurate in terms of the amount of emissions that the UK emits on a global scale. This is because the records showing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions do not take account of the emissions associated with imports. These imports aren’t just vast amounts of coal either, we also import huge amounts of steel and cement, products which this country is more than capable of making (provided that we are allowed to use our own materials and resources). So although we may appear to be reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, the fact of the matter is that we are simply offshoring these emissions, effectively denying our total accountability of the UK’s contribution to the global crisis of climate change.

This is wrong!

In the simplest terms, the figure for the additional greenhouse gas emissions that result from importing coal ironically disappears into thin air, with no one taking responsibility for the additional five times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of coal to the UK from Russia. This is despite the fact that this coal is used to serve the UK’s need for coal to meet industrial, power and domestic demand. Had the equivalent tonnage of coal (around five million tonnes) been sourced on home soil, then the UK would have helped save over 46,000 grammes of CO2 per tonne of coal that was transported from Russia from going into the earth’s atmosphere. One way to address this loophole would be to make the country importing goods to be responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions generated through transportation of those goods. By adopting this approach countries would have an incentive to reduce imports and become more self-sufficient.

In short, so long as we need coal to produce steel, cement, bricks, electricity, you name it…. surely it is better to mine coal on our home soil and let UK surface mining reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.


By George Oldroyd, graduate planner, Banks Mining and one of The Banks Group’s bloggers

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