September 11, 2008
First Deep Mine for Years a Hot Prospect, Says Corus
By Aled Blake
A DEEP mine at Margam could be opened within four years, a leading Corus official said yesterday.
The mine would be the first new deep mine to open in the UK for decades and would supply coal to Corus' Port Talbot steelworks as the company aims to become more self-sufficient in Europe.
Corus' parent company, the Indian conglomerate Tata, is aiming to produce its own fuel for its steel-producing facilities across the group.
Plans for a superpit at Margam to supply coal to the steelworks have been mooted for a number of years, but the project has yet to get off the ground.
Anthony Farrand, director of raw material supplies at Corus, told the Coal Authority's annual conference in Cardiff that the slow process in establishing the UK's first new deep mine in decades was moving forward.
No new deep mine has opened in South Wales since Betws colliery near Ammanford in 1974.
He said: "To extract the first coal from there in three to four years would be a very ambitious target. We would like to start tomorrow and the foot is on the accelerator on this."
Corus is undertaking a pre-feasibility study of the site in Margam and Mr Farrand said: "It is important to recognise that this is an important fit within the Tata strategy. The Tata steel group strategy is to have around 15% of the European base self-supplied in the next 10 years. These aren't easy projects but we have greenfield projects not just here in Wales but in Africa and Australasia as well."
The prospect of opening a deep mine in Margam was welcomed by Dr Helen Mounsey, chairman of the Coal Authority.
She said the future for the industry in South Wales was as bright as it had been for a long time, with rising coal prices making mining a more attractive prospect.
The world demand for energy has been growing fast in the past three years, with oil driving prices of other fuels such as gas and coal.
The globalmarket price for coal has doubled, with the fossil fuel accounting for 36% of the UK's electricity produced in 2007.
Dr Mounsey argued the success of Energy build's drift mine at Aberpergwm and Unity Mine at Pentreclwydau as examples of the potential for Wales' coal industry.
She said: "There is a really interesting opportunity opening up of a new deep mine at Margam, that would be the first deep mine to open up for many years in the UK.
"There is also a vibrant opencast industry here in South Wales."
Opencast mining has been a controversial topic in Wales in recent years, with the massive Ffos-y-Fran site at Merthyr Tydfil attracting vehement opposition from local campaigners.
Dr Mounsey acknowledged the coal industry must be proactive in persuading people of its green credentials. She said: "The thing that will influence coal's role going forward is the clean coal debate and we urgently need progress on carbon capture and storage technology.
"If we get it right it will enable us to continue burning coal in our power stations beyond 2016. We do need urgent progress on carbon capture and storage. The point I'm keen to make is that this is not just carbon capture for the UK, it is for the world."
With China opening a new coal fired power station every week to sustain its growth, the onus is on the West to find solutions to the carbon capture challenge, Dr Mounsey said. And that could prove vital to the future well-being of the industry in Wales.
She said: "We will never go back to the wholesale peaks that we saw in the 19th and early 20th centuries but coal will remain an important contributor to the Welsh economy."
Controversies over opencast mining needed to be addressed by politicians and the industry, Dr Mounsey said.
"People's immediate reaction is that surface mining is dusty, dirty and dangerous," she said.
"Yes, there is a period when the mining is active but beyond that, we are the very best in the world at reclamation of surface mine sites."
Campaigners from Merthyr Tydfil were at the conference to protest against the Ffos-y-Fran opencast mine.
Alyson Austin. "The Ffos-y-Fran mine is a 200m deep hole, only 35 metres from our houses, and the coal they are digging out is causing dangerous climate change."
But Dr Mounsey said: "I have been to three surface mine sites in the past year, one of which was Ffos-y-Fran, and environmental protection measures are superb."
(c) 2008 Western Mail. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.