I join you today as the Member of Parliament for Workington, the neighbouring constituency to Copeland, the border of which less than 5 miles from the proposed development; as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy parliamentary select committee; and as a former British Steel apprentice.
West Cumbria Mining’s would plans bring huge economic benefits not only to the Copeland constituency but to the wider region – particularly my constituency.
West Cumbria has been reliant to a large extent on the jobs and opportunities created through the nuclear industry and its supply chain. Diversification within the industrial and energy sectors are vital to the government’s ‘levelling’ up agenda.
The project itself, which enjoys huge, widespread support from the Cumbrian public, will also be net carbon zero from day one – and the coking coal mined here will be used to make steel that the renewable energy industry requires. The requirement for coking coal will reduce as we decarbonise the steel-making process. However, there is no alternative to coking coal in some parts of the steel-making process, and current large-scale trials for substitution relate only to one part of the process. You will hear a lot throughout this enquiry about ‘alternatives’, but reference to the necessary ongoing use of coking coal in those alternative processes will be hidden from some of the presentations.
Electric arc furnace technology does not remove the requirement for coking coal – either in new steel or in wholly recycled steel, and expert reports commissioned by all sides in the planning application attest to that. In my role on the select committee, we have held an inquiry into the future of UK steel production – and what a positive story it is to tell.
We have seen in the recent decisions on steel safeguards, the importance that government attaches to UK steel production.
Every single one of the renewable technologies on which we’ll rely on, in getting to Net Zero by 2050, relies on steel - and there is no alternative to coking coal in producing that steel. By virtue of the time that decarbonisation technologies and large investment decisions take, the earlier we want to get to Net Zero, the more coking coal we will rely on.
I have met and spoken with, many of the leaders of the steel industry in the UK. They are clear that without a UK source of raw materials, including coking coal, their reliance on imports would continue. Should those imports stop or become unviable as we bring international aviation and shipping emissions into our net zero calculations, that would be detrimental to the UK steel industry – which would be unable to continue producing some of the steel the UK will rely on for defence and energy production. The covid pandemic brought into sharp relief issues of supply chain resilience in the UK - this could become a matter of national security.
While the coking coal from Whitehaven is destined for steelmaking, it is also worth pointing out that UK usage of coking coal is much wider, from cement production to electric vehicle car batteries – and even the electrodes for the electric arc furnaces on which low carbon steel will rely in the future.
UK-mined coking coal will play an important role in reaching Net Zero. While, the Government has rightly committed to eliminating thermal coal from our electricity production, coking (or metallurgical) coal is an entirely different matter. The UK and Europe import over 16Mt of coking, or metallurgical, coal every year, with the CO₂ emissions from its transport five to seven times higher than if it was produced closer to the point of use.
To suggest that shipping it around the world, often from countries with dubious environmental records, is somehow better in any way is ridiculous - and takes the dangerously incorrect position that what we don’t see doesn’t harm us, that emissions at the other side of the world aren’t our problem.
While not directly related to the discussions on coking coal which should not be confused with fossil fuels, The Climate Change Committee has also said that Britain would need fossil fuels for at least two decades – and it therefore remains a better option to use UK-source oil and gas than to import it, making it easier to control emissions. The same argument must be applied in this case.
Economic growth and demand in growth for steel are undeniably linked. Our plan for growth will necessarily bring a demand for steel, and we should place much heavier weight on the use of UK produced steel. The low-carbon energy technologies that we will rely on in the future – without exception – are underpinned by steel.
This ambitious project represents the largest and most significant direct investment and job creation project in this region in a generation.
Realistically there are no other plans or ambitions in any other sector in West Cumbria which come even close to matching the project spend – wholly private inward investment in this case - job creation, skills development or supply chain support potential which can come from the WCM project.
I cannot overstate the importance of this project not only for Copeland but also for my own constituency of Workington. There will be the direct creation of 532 well paid and skilled jobs on site with this project. Recruitment would start quickly after a planning approval which would mean the local economy would be given an immediate boost. This investment addresses a need for local and regional job creation in an area facing deep, longstanding and widespread economic challenges, including pockets of deprivation. Significantly, West Cumbria Mining will be offering opportunities for those who are semi-skilled. They will be trained by WCM via accredited and approved training and competency schemes providing significant upskilling opportunities for the local area. The mine will support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation, and to pursue growth.
Private investment of this magnitude – and which dovetails neatly with our climate change targets and aligns with the ‘Build Back Better’ plan for growth – does not come along every day or even every decade. The economic and environmental arguments indicate that this is an opportunity that must be grasped with both hands.
The project will also create over 1,600 indirect new jobs in the region – created across many supply-chain sectors. For example, the Port of Workington in my constituency will see extra work created from this project, whether it be the import of mining equipment or construction materials – so to avoid heavy road movements. The project will have an offsite support centre which again is likely to be located in my constituency.
One of the biggest failures of our national discourse on Net Zero is that we consider everything in absolute terms. We have to remember in all of our discussions that Net Zero means just that – NET – there will continue to be emissions, and they will be captured and stored or they will be offset. The Climate Change Committee is clear about this in it’s Carbon Budgets, and less so in its PR.
As outlined previously, the mine will be net carbon zero from the very beginning – making it the first of its type in the world. As part of its development there will be an additional capital investment of £15m in methane capture equipment and associated plant and equipment. The project will also have annual operational costs of at least £3m per annum in terms of renewable electricity tariffs, methane plant operation, biofuel alternatives and other emission-reduction initiatives.
Carbon offset commitments are anticipated to grow over time and end up at around £5m per annum. The mine will therefore use an accredited gold standard as part of its work to offset residual emissions. The total carbon offset until 2050 could be as high as £86million, with additional operating costs of £75m over 25 years. This is a very significant commitment to carbon offset of more than £150million over the lifetime of the mine.
The coking coal mined from the site will allow the UK to reduce the amount of metallurgical coal it needs to import from around the world – by ship. This will not only support the British steel industry but offset the carbon emissions that come with importing materials from countries such as America, Australia and Russia. The UK currently imports more than two million tonnes of metallurgical coal each year to supply Port Talbot and Scunthorpe. This means the UK will not be offshoring its import transportation emissions and will instead be using its own local natural resources.
It is also worth reiterating some points made by my honourable friend the member of parliament for Ashfield, that construction of the mine will take place on an existing brownfield site which is a former chemical works. Therefore, this project will remediate this abandoned site and bring it back into use for the benefit of the economy, the environment, and the community.
There will be no tips or heaps of traditional coal mine waste. The mine also accords fully with UK green industrial commitments, and includes legal conditions for no production beyond 2049 and the highest levels of project greenhouse gas (GHG) emission mitigation
The Climate Change Committee has said it is minded to support new North Sea oil production so to maximise UK supplies rather than rely on imports – a sentiment that must also apply, by logical extension, to imports of metallurgical coal to make steel.
West Cumbria Mining’s plans will provide significant new economic diversity and investment in a region which has endured a decline in skilled jobs and industrial activity over a generation.
Again to reiterate points made by Mr Anderson, the WCM project will reduce the regional over-dependence on other industries as they downsize. For example, the region is particularly dependent on the nuclear industry via Sellafield and the wider supply chain. This raises a question mark about short to medium term employment prospects for the region, and how the jobs market will be sustained.
The mine itself will make £1.8bn contribution to UK Gross domestic product (GDP) in the first 10 years, £2.5bn worth of exports and would deliver a 1.8 per cent reduction in the UK balance of trade deficit over the same period.
It will see £130 million annual project spend in the region each year when in full production, and a £500m tax contribution to Government in first 10 years.
That levels up every part of the UK, enables the transition to net zero, and supports the Government’s vision for Global Britain.
Reiteration of key points (conclusion)
The low-carbon energy technologies that we will rely on in the future – without exception – are underpinned by steel. That steel production requires coking coal, otherwise known as metallurgical coal, for the foreseeable future.
Any increase in UK steel consumption without domestic production of that steel and its process components will result in increases in both our domestic and offshored carbon footprints. While I wholly welcome the phasing out of coal in power generation in the UK – and the UK should celebrate its world-leading record on this – we must not let ‘coal’ become a catch-all dirty word.
We must differentiate between the burning of coal when other widespread technologies exist for the same purpose, and the industrial use of coal as a chemical element – such as in steelmaking.
There is no technology currently that can replace our reliance on coking coal, and no prospect of any technology yet to emerge, being commercialised in the life of this mine.
Electric Arc Furnaces are often portrayed as the green saviour of steel production, but the first and most obvious question would be ‘Where will the electricity will come from?’
The primary feedstock for Electric Arc Furnaces is recycled steel, and while crude figures suggest that the UK on paper is almost self-sufficient in scrap steel, the EU and World markets are not. This fails to take account of the fact that the scrap steel has be of exactly the right composition to make the requisite end product, so most Electric Arc Furnace produced steels are a mixture of scrap steel and sponge iron and remains reliant on the addition of coke.
The sponge iron process is currently reliant on natural gas or thermal coal. Direct Reduced Iron or DRI, that uses hydrogen as a reductant such as in HYBRIT,
Policy should focus on helping heavy industry in the UK to develop innovative clean technologies to solve all of these issues. However, this cannot be achieved overnight. Trials, such as those in Sweden to use hydrogen, continue. Some point to the intention of HYBRIT to have a commercial plant running by 2026 as the way forward, but again without even touching on feasibility in the short to near term of replacing plants with such expensive, energy intensive replacements, they fail to realise that the HYBRIT process is for production of sponge iron – the problems in the Electric Arc Furnace process that follows, remain. Coking coal is still necessary to make steels of the requisite carbon content, and to encourage and enhance slag foaming which protects the furnace, makes the process more energy efficient and reduces nitrogen – the presence of which makes for brittle steel.
We must seize the narrative around net-zero from the people that would jeopardise progress and our future quality of life, and be honest about what that means for the people in constituencies like Workington. Part of the route to net-zero is to bring back some of our carbon footprint that we’ve offshored by importing from countries that often have dubious environmental protections.
We have a significant opportunity to level up across our constituencies if we can rejuvenate our UK manufacturing base. Growing our economy, and revitalising our UK manufacturing base will necessarily bring carbon emissions that the Climate Change Committee are clear are necessary and will be offset or captured and stored. And we must work harder and smarter here in the UK to reduce our reliance and to reduce the impact.
We cannot pat ourselves on the back for a job well done in 2050 if we have got there on the back of steel, or its component parts like coal, imported from halfway around the world. Let us get there as the UK does best – we have our eye on the finish line and let us emerge as the clear winner - but having won fairly and squarely.
We must recognise that coal has an important role to play in the future of the UK. We must ensure that that this is UK coal used to make UK steel, and to help Britain Build Back Better.
I implore you to allow West Cumbria to continue to play its part in that.