What Will the Future Have in Store For Us?
Will development for the new drift mine in Cumbria proceed to work a seam of valuable coking coal?
Hartington opencast site working Top Hard, First and Second Waterloo seams is the last opencast site in Derbyshire where working is thought to have started in Roman times. It is also the last opencast site in England, the Bradley site in Durham finished working at the end of August 2020.
Similarly the Hartington site was to finish at the same time but because of the Covid-19 virus that had struck the country and Worldwide from February 2020 the site was allowed to carry on working until the end of the year 2020.
The first opencast site in the country excavating down to a maximum of about 10 metres started at Tibshelf, Derbyshire in 1942 as a War effort to increase the coal production which was falling dramatically at that time and more coal was needed to produce steel for munitions. After the War finished in 1945 it was later felt prudent to carry on with open-casting as it was quite profitable compared to deep mined coal albeit that some sites were not welcomed now by the local populace. The excavation depths had increased dramatically now and some sites lasted 10 years or more. Sometimes of course trees and flora etc were destroyed to reach the coal but better management later left sites in far better shape and scenic than before. The strata was excavated and properly dumped in blocks so as to refill the excavation on completion with the strata put back and compacted in correct sequence. Grass and trees were planted and water courses were constructed attracting wildlife back into the area.
The 'Hartington' excavations are on the site of the Staveley Ironworks tip beginning in the late 1800s and slag and waste coke and other toxic iron waste material has had to be moved to access the coal seams. All the area will be backfilled and compacted with the toxic material buried in such a way as to not be able to get into any water supply or watercourse. A photo shows a compacted area. Later test holes will be drilled on the site to prove the stability of the ground before a proposed and planned array of industrial units will be built bringing the availability of jobs for some of the local people. One view shows a 'red ochre river' of bright orangey colour flowing from the outcrop into the excavation. The site had been swamped at one time when the bank of the nearby River Rother gave way. Non-stop pumping arrangements had to be put into operation following the repair to the river bank.
Two seams can be seen outcropping at the surface, however the top seam, First Waterloo in that area is of very poor quality and has had to be mixed with the good coal of the Top Hard. There is a fault cutting through that area. All the strata is excavated by scrapers down to the top of the coal seams before the diggers move in.
I was escorted round the site by Peter George the site agent and director of Fitzwise the contractors. I am standing at the Top Hard seam excavation where the 1.65m seam is shown 'on end' directly in line with the cleavage plane showing how very large lumps are produced when the excavator digs into it and loads the coal into a dump truck. The coal is taken to a portable screening plant and at the time I was there 3 grades of coal were heaped separately awaiting loading into lorries for transportation to a cement
works for one. 12 various machines were operated. Some 87,000 tonnes plus is the planned output. Direction signs were strategically placed along the local roads for the delivery lorries to follow.
Orders have been received from some of the railway enthusiasts for their steam engines. When coal imports cease from abroad it will become a big problem. Coal burning is to cease at all power stations in UK at the end of 2025 with electricity then being produced by burning biomass, oil, gas etc.
However in the summer of 2020 due to the very hot weather and the lack of wind the turbines stopped and one power station had to quickly revert back to burning coal, fortunately there being some in reserve at the power station stocking area. It would appear that we cannot fully rely on the wind.
Peter George the Site Agent and Director of Fitzwise the Contractors