Dr Golding’s letter about our planned surface mine at Highthorn in Northumberland (The Journal, Tuesday 7 April 2020) purposefully ignores an enormous elephant in the room, which is that even when we stop using coal to make electricity in 2024, we will still need around five million tonnes every year in the UK for essential industrial uses, including the production of raw steel and cement.
Of course the greenhouse gas emissions released by these processes will be the same wherever the coal comes from, but Banks Mining can achieve significant savings in emissions by ensuring that the coal is mined in the most efficient way possible and by minimising the distance that the coal has to be transported to its end user – and during a ‘climate emergency,’ we surely need to take every opportunity available to make such savings.
In 2019, the UK imported 6.9 million tonnes of coal – a staggering 86% of our nation’s annual coal demand.
Imported coal is transported over thousands of miles, with 37% being dragged five to six thousand miles from Russia and the bulk of the remainder coming from the US, Colombia and Australia.
Dr Golding’s dismissiveness of the potential carbon savings from reducing transportation distances is somewhat misleading, as transportation to the UK from Russia of the three million tonnes of coal that would be mined at Highthorn would contribute an additional 140 to 170 thousand tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions.
That is the equivalent to all the greenhouse gas emissions from Newcastle City Council for well over two years – hardly an insignificant saving, Dr Golding.
At the 2017 public inquiry into the Highthorn project, Friends of The Earth and Dr Golding incorrectly argued that Highthorn coal would create a surplus in UK domestic requirements, but the government-appointed planning inspector rightly concluded that there was ‘no evidential basis for FoE’s conclusion.’
Mining companies are businesses that only mine coal when there is a need. If we are permitted to contribute towards the UK’s demand for industrial coal and fireclay from our proposed mines at Highthorn and Dewley Hill, it defies logic to conclude that an equivalent amount of coal would still be mined overseas.
Where is the environmental or economic sense in sourcing our supplies of coal from thousands of miles away when it is readily available to be mined efficiently and safely here in the north east much closer to our UK customers?
The current national emergency has made retaining ready access to the essential resources that UK industry needs even more important than before, while further increasing reliance on overseas supplies makes the country vulnerable to supply chain interruptions and price hikes that are out of our control.
The Highthorn planning inspector concluded in his inquiry report that “there would be an economic advantage for the UK in using indigenous coal, and possible savings in transport emissions” and that the planning application ought to be approved.
It remains hugely frustrating that our much-needed investment and job creation plans have been held up for almost four years, and for the sake of the regional economy, our highly skilled North East workforce and the global climate, we hope the secretary of state decides soon to allow us to start work at Highthorn.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director, The Banks Group
The above letter appeared in the hard copy version of The Journal on Thursday 16 April 2020. We would like to take this opportunity to record our thanks to The Journal’s editorial team for giving us this further right of reply.