UK approves first new coal mine in 30 years

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The United Kingdom administration has granted permission for the start-up of a deep coal mine project in the northwest of England. This is the first coal project to receive the government’s blessings in 30 years.

Project documents note that the Woodhouse Colliery mine project seeks to extract coking coal, an essential element used in the steel industry, from under the Irish Sea. The coal will be processed on the site of a shuttered chemical plant in the town of Whitehaven, about 340 miles (550 kilometres) away from London.

The project which will be executed by West Cumbria Mining is expected to create around 500 jobs. The mine would take two years to build, and cost US$201 million. It would also last for half a century. Most of the production is expected to be exported to Europe.

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With coal being the planet’s most polluting fossil fuel, Britain’s decision to allow the coal mine a free pass has already attracted global criticism. Some stakeholders believe the mine will affect Britain’s status as a leader in replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy. Thus far, the UK has seen a rapid transformation in its energy model, with coal representing only 3% of the energy consumed in 2020, compared to 20% in 2013.

International commentators also contend that the mine could affect the UK’s goal to phase out coal and meet goals of generating 100% electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

The government has since defended the mine, reiterating that it will produce coal to be used to make steel, not generate power. It said its commitment to phase out coal power by 2024 remains in place.

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A Decision Document from the UK’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said the authorities are satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal, and that although there is no consensus on what future demand in the UK and Europe may be, it is highly likely that global demand for coking coal would remain. Some UK supporters have also expressed solidarity with the government’s move, as green methods of making steel have yet to be widely adopted.

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