Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
Dadansoddiad a thrafodaeth radicalaidd o wleidyddiaeth yng Nghymru
Subscribe to our RSS feed

Open cast is trashing the south Wales landscape

A momentum is building. Last year Climate Camp Cymru camped next to Ffos y Fran – one of the largest opencast mines in Europe – for a week of workshops and sustainable living. This summer we’re going back to basics with a light action-based camp, targeting coal somewhere in south Wales.

Burning coal is destroying the climate. The coal mined in South Wales’ open cast pits is the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels. Being nearly pure carbon, it releases nearly pure carbon dioxide when burned. How we produce power for electricity has the biggest impact on the climate of any sector, and of the fuels used in power stations burning coal emits the most carbon.

The mine at Ffos-y-Fran and mines such as Celtic Energy’s Selar and East Pit carry out mining, cleaning and washing operations to supply Aberthaw Power Station with approximately 500,000 tonnes of coal per annum. The mined coals are delivered from the ‘production’ sites by road and rail for delivery to Aberthaw Power Station.

The use of coal in power stations has risen by 10 per cent under New Labour, and CO2 emissions in the UK are higher than ever before – and still rising.

By failing to oppose new coal mines like Ffos-y-Fran and the new extension to the Selar Mine the Government sends a clear signal that they are not committed to addressing climate change substantially.

In addition to this, coal powered electrical generation is not even an efficient way of generating electricity. Up to 75% of the energy is wasted in heat production at large central electricity generating power stations such as Aberthaw.

Because coal has become cheaper to burn than natural gas, energy companies are planning new coal power stations which could be pumping out carbon dioxide for the next fifty years, making it almost impossible for us to stop catastrophic climate change. One of the world’s most pre-eminent climate scientists, James Hansen from NASA, was so shocked by the UK’s plans for new coal that he wrote to the Prime Minister – stating that he had “the future of the world in his hands.”

This just goes to show how badly the government is lacking a coherent approach to tackling energy security and climate change. There is a solution – Research at Oxford University as long ago as 2005 showed that intermittent renewables, combined with domestic combined heat and power (dCHP) could dependably provide the bulk of Britain's electricity.

We could meet a much larger proportion of its energy needs from renewable, doing away with the need for new coal fired power stations, generating tens of thousands of jobs and growth for the UK economy, and allowing us to take a lead on the global climate stage.

Opencast mining damages the earth and the health of local people. In 2007 Argent Miller were hoping to extract 10.8 million tonnes of coal from the site at Ffos-y-Fran. To do this they must first remove 123 million cubic metres of rock. The site is planned to be open until 2024 with explosives used to loosen the rock, whilst machines working up to maximum noise levels at 70dB drone away from 7 in the morning until 11 at night, generating smoke and dust. According to the original planning application, operations at Celtic Energy’s Selar’s site were meant to finish in 2010, but the summer of 2010 sees the company applying for an extension to their 17 year old workings. The impact on people living as close as 40m to open cast mining site, the impact from the noise, from the dust and from the road traffic ruins their lives.

Above this, the impact of the landscape of opencast mining is catastrophic. The sides of the south Wales valleys are particularly lush in summer, featuring deeply incised stream valleys, filled with deciduous trees, surrounded by peaceful fields. The places touched by open cast mining have none of this subtlety. The mining companies claim that the sites are reclaimed and restored,
‘Watercourses will be reinstated to follow the original lines of the old mountain streams which existed before opencast operations during the post war era, with their banks planted with a variety of broad leaved trees.’
However the process of refilling holes that are hundreds of metres deep leaves an artificial and compromised landscape. The flora and fauna take decades to recover. The land form will never recover.

We do not need and the climate cannot afford new coal mines and coal-fired power stations. Renewable technologies can power Britain cleanly and securely, drive the British economy to be a world leader in green technologies, and deliver a clean industrial revolution which can provide safety. We need green jobs for Wales, not dirty destruction.

Join a growing number of ordinary people taking direct action, and exploring alternatives, to stop the madness that is destroying the earth.

It's time to take action Climate Camp Cymru 13-17th August 2010.