Coal from planned Cumbria mine may be exported outside of UK and EU, inquiry told

The coal extracted from a planned Cumbrian mine may be exported beyond the EU, contrary to the mine company’s claims, a public inquiry into the project has heard.

Coal from planned Cumbria mine may be exported outside of UK and EU, inquiry told. Photograph: Getty Images Coal from planned Cumbria mine may be exported outside of UK and EU, inquiry told. Photograph: Getty Images

West Cumbria Mining Ltd (WCM) is currently seeking approval for its controversial proposal to build a deep coal mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria, which would provide coking coal to the steel industry until 2049.

If approved, the project would be the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years, and the company has argued that objections to the mine amount to “little more than emissions offshoring”.

WCM claims the project would be net carbon zero, but the public inquiry was triggered when the mine application was ‘called-in’ by the communities secretary Robert Jenrick in March this year, following domestic and international concern about its climate impact. 

WCM has said its coal would principally supply British steelmaking and industry in EU countries, reports the Guardian, while creating 532 direct and 1,618 indirect jobs in Cumbria, as well as “deliver new UK exports, which are forecast to reduce the UK balance of trade deficit by around 1.8% annually”. 

However, the inquiry heard yesterday that a document submitted by WCM to the inquiry showed that much of the exported coal could go further than just the EU.  

“The reality is the vast majority of WCM’s coal is destined to go abroad,” said Estelle Dehon, the legal representative acting on behalf of the South Lakes Action on Climate Change group (SLACC). “WCM’s coal is likely to go to Europe, [but is] not exclusive to the EU – including Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia.”

She reportedly added that Japan and India had also been mooted as markets.

According to the Guardian, the document suggests Turkey may be the largest market for WCM’s coking coal -  the only member of the G20 that has not ratified the international commitments enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Dehon also argued that no methodology had been provided by WCM to support its job creation claims or associated apprenticeships, despite SLACC having requested the information.

The inquiry, which began yesterday, will last for around four weeks, after which the inquiry inspector will make a recommendation to the communities secretary, with a final decision expected by Spring 2022.

Earlier this week it was reported that Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and the Border in the Lake District, had reversed his position of supporting the project and is now calling on the government to drop it.

In his submission to the inquiry, Hudson urged the government to cancel the plans for the mine, saying that although he had previously signaled his support for it, following the publication of last month’s IPCC report, “on reflection I do not think we should be progressing with new coal exploration, even for coking coal”.

WCM did not respond to a request for comment, but its lawyer is reported to have argued in the inquiry that: "It's all too easy to object to this development on the basis that it's a coal mine, coal is dirty and bad.

"The reality is that some industries, especially the steel industry, will continue to need coking coal for many years.

"Once it's recognised as a continuing need, which will be met with imports from the USA, irrespective of whether this development gets [approval], the objections to this mine amount to little more than emissions offshoring.”