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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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£15m mine plan ‘may bring 500 jobs’

THE company behind plans to bring coal mining back to Whitehaven say it would create up to 500 new jobs, 100 of them for miners.

By Margaret Crosby

A new company, West Cumbria Mining Ltd (WCM) is backing its proposals with a £14.7million investment.

Whitehaven Coking Coal Project aims to open a new mine next to Haig Pit and extract high-value coking coal for use in the steel industry.

The finance, from private equity firm EMR Capital, Australia, will support development of the project as the company begins talks with local authorities, residents and local organisations.

This is the third time that organisations have homed in on Haig’s coal reserves. A geo-thermal unit has been looking at extracting heat from water and gas in disused mineworkings; the Cluff company is looking at gasification (setting fire to the undersea coal to produce gas); now, WCM, whose parent company Riverside Energy first expressed an interest in mining coking coal at Whitehaven a year ago, is back with firmed-up plans.

WCM intends to begin with a limited programme of onshore drilling to provide more detail about the coal that lies beneath. Ultimately it aims to produce around three million tonnes of coking coal a year. It anticipates transporting it from Whitehaven by rail to a local processing facility and subsequently on to markets in the UK and Europe.

Millions of tonnes of high-quality coking coal were extracted from Haig Colliery from 1914 until it closed in 1986, much of it from under the seabed up to five miles out. WCM believes there are still over 750 million tonnes of it left, across some 200 square kilometres, within three main seams.

Chief executive Mark Kirkbride said it was “a world-class prospect”.

He said the UK currently imports coking coal, mainly from Australia and the USA, so it made sense to source it at home “if sufficient amounts can be accessed and mined economically”. Europe is also a major net importer of coking coal.

Environmental and social issues will be looked at as part of a feasibility study and the intention is to start an offshore drilling programme in 2015, to confirm quality and access.

Mr Kirkbride, a mining engineer from Middlesbrough, said: “We are looking forward to working with local authorities and communities as the project develops.” Public meetings will be held in the next month or two.

“While it is too early to talk about specific details, we believe that mining has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to the area in the future, including high-quality jobs. We are committed to recruiting locally where possible.”

Around 20 per cent of the jobs would be for miners. Other roles would be in the skilled trades, electrical and mechanical engineering, in surface jobs and management and admin. Construction would be during 2017 with actual mining taking place from 2018.

WCM holds three licences, onshore, southern offshore and northern offshore (currently under renewal application) covering 200 sq km.

British Coal said in the 1980s it was not economic to further mine the deposits. Previously there was no market for coking coal.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed said West Cumbria Mining Ltd would receive a warm welcome. Public consultation and robust scrutiny were crucial and information was needed about jobs, environmental impact and the physical logistics of the proposals.

“This is potentially another step towards delivering the Energy Coast plan and re-affirming the message that West Cumbria is a great place to do business. I’ve consistently said that our best days are ahead of us, and the potential creation of 500 none-nuclear, none-public sector, private sector jobs is further proof of this.”

Cumbria County Council, the planning authority for minerals and exploratory drilling, welcomed the project.

Egremont county councillor David Southward, the Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “To have a multi-million-pound investor looking at the viability of a scheme of this scale in West Cumbria is very good news indeed. The rebirth of mining in West Cumbria would be a massive boost to regeneration in the area.

“It’s early days, but this would be a major string to the region’s bow.”

Have your say

Hope the creation of the jobs that go along side this enterprise go to local lads and lasses and whitehaven isnt flooded with foriegn labour. This is a chance to make whitehaven a viable community, i left 25 years ago and pop back up now and then. the town is ruined, and the town seems to have lost its way..long live the miners!

Posted by Darren Goodwin on 14 June 2014 at 19:00

I for one can't wait to have a soot covered town again.

Posted by Rick on 13 June 2014 at 00:22

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