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expert reaction to Cumbrian coalmine decision

It has been announced that Michael Gove has approved development of the UK’s first new coalmine in 3 decades in Whitehaven in Cumbria.


Prof Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Sciences, University of Oxford, said:

“The Cumbrian coal mine will release some 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. If the Government must go ahead with these plans, they should also deploy robust carbon dioxide capture and storage technology to mop up these emissions. As I wrote last year, the mine could have ushered in a net-zero-compliant fossil fuel industry. But that opportunity is being squandered.”


Prof Sam Fankhauser, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford

“There is a big difference between a short-term increase in fossil fuel use, in response to the energy crisis, and new long-term investment in a coal mine. Unless the carbon associated with the mine can be captured and stored, the jobs it creates will be short-lived.

“The decision to approve Woodhouse Colliery also sends completely the wrong message about Britain’s commitment to net zero.  It looks hypocritical in the eyes of low-income countries, whose own fossil fuel ambitions we have repeatedly criticised.”


Prof Jon Gluyas, Executive Director of the Durham Energy Institute, said:

“This decision undermines the UK’s Net Zero commitment. It may result in the creation of a small number of jobs, but this will be at best a short-lived mine and so short-lived jobs. Any inference that the United Kingdom imports coal from Russia is incorrect.”


Dr Andrew Pimm, Research Fellow in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds, said:

“Opening new coal mines would be a backwards step in a country looking to lead on tackling climate change, and could mean higher emissions, higher costs, and stranded assets.”

“We currently import most of our coking coal from the USA and Australia; I estimate that the emissions savings from shortened transport distances could be less than 2% of the emissions that arise when using the coal to produce steel. This must be weighed against the possible consequences of sending out the message that coal mining is acceptable in the UK. My feeling is that the net effect could be an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.”

“We estimate that the lifetime costs of coal-based steelmaking could be higher than for other approaches, such as those based on increased electrification and use of hydrogen.”

“Several UK steel producers have said that they wouldn’t be able to use the coal because of its sulphur content. Many large steel producers are increasingly looking towards direct reduction of iron (DRI) instead of blast furnaces, and DRI plants are now in development in many countries in Europe and the rest of the world. Direct reduction processes typically do not use coal; instead, they use natural gas or hydrogen. It’s possible that UK steel producers may follow suit, particularly over the longer term.

“The UK’s industrial electricity prices are among the highest in Europe and remain closely coupled to the costs of natural gas-fired generation, even though wind and solar electricity is now several times cheaper than electricity from gas. We need action to lower industrial electricity prices and ensure that heavy industry can benefit from the low costs of renewable electricity.”


Dr Sugandha Srivastav, Research Associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said

“Developing countries such as India will view this decision as extremely hypocritical, and this move will do a disservice to the UK’s history of pushing out coal from its power system. That history will be overshadowed by this new coal mine and it sends inconsistent signals about the future direction of UK energy policy.”


Prof Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said:

“A new coal mine in Cumbria makes no sense environmentally or economically. It will add to global CO2 emissions, as the new supply will not replace other coal but divert it elsewhere, and it will become stranded in the 2030s as the steel industry globally moves away from coal. Approving it also trashes the UK’s reputation as a global leader on climate action and opens it up to well justified charges of hypocrisy – telling other countries to ditch coal while not doing so itself. Actions speak louder than words, and approval of this coal mine, instead of seeking investment in renewable energy on the same site, confirms that the Government’s protestations in favour of a green economy are a sham.”


Prof Stuart Haszeldine, School of GeoSciences,  University Edinburgh, said:

“Opening a coal mine in Cumbria is investing in 1850s technology, and does not look forward to the 2030s low carbon local energy future. We have studied the Cumbria coals and it’s clear that these are very high in sulphur and are not wanted by either of the two UK iron and steel makers. Steel making in Europe is rapidly changing to use hydrogen, not coal. Most, and maybe all, of this coking coal will be exported outside of Europe to escape environmental constraints on its use. England will become a global dirty fuel supplier.”


Declared interests

Prof Ekins: “I was an expert witness at the public inquiry into the coal mine in 2021.”

Prof Haszeldine receives no research funding from fossil fuel extraction companies. He is funded by UK and EU research councils, working on carbon storage, hydrogen and net zero.

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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