Letter: Obstacles to a UK dash for coal

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DS BOYES (YEP, April 19) makes a case for re-opening the Selby coalfield. The problem is that he does not understand the difficulty in re-opening the coalfield.

1. Where is he going to get the trained labour force to man the mines? To satisfy the mining safety regulations, those in force before the European legislation, would take time. It would take many years to train somebody to work at the coal face, never mind the posts such as the colliery manager, the colliery surveyor, the colliery mechanical engineer the colliery electrical engineer and the colliery safety engineer. I apologise for any omissions from this list. A decade might be needed to train the whole workforce needed to mine coal.

2. One of the reasons for closing the Selby coalfield was the problem of subsidence. The “take”, the area that the colliery mines, has above it, the Vale of York, an expanse of land, whose height is near sea level. So to establish a dyke system such as the Dutch have done would take many years and a great deal of cost to establish. I wonder would it be economical to change from the long-wall system to a short-wall method?

3. The Selby coalfield does not have almost limitless reserves. There is a limit to how far the shafts can be from the coal face. A limiting factor is the “travelling time”, the distance travelled by the miners to reach the coal face, a time lost from the “cutting time” .Then there is the problem of getting the ventilation to the miners working at the coal face. Given these environmental, economical and geological problems I wonder would it be worth bothering to reopen the collieries when a more realistic course would be to start from scratch and sink some more shafts closer to the east, nearer Scarborough.

4. The resources needed to achieve the reopening, might be better spent on researching and developing synthetic (sin) biology technolgy. Sin biology might provide a means of extracting the coal in a shorter timescale, than the one required to reopen the Selby coalfield. J Craig Venter, one of the leaders in this field, is working on a project for an American oil company in the Gulf of Mexico to use modified bacteria to reduce the viscosity of the crude oil, to allow a greater amount of it to be recovered. A similar genetically-modified bacteria could be used to liquefy the coal under Yorkshire and the North Sea, obviating the need for anyone to go underground. This would enable the coal reserves under the North Sea all the way to the Continent to be recovered. I do not think that the cod would complain about the subsidence.

5. Given the choice between exploiting the shale gas reserves in Lancashire and reopening the Selby coalfield, it might a good idea to put the nation’s limited resources into the shale gas “basket”. I, for one, do not know. That is why we, as a society, have to rely on experts to make these judgments.

6. If Arthur Scargill had had his way, instead of Maggie Thatcher, we might have developed “clean coal technology” at Grimethorpe, then D S Boyes and I would not be “brassed off”. Maybe we could have sold the technology and equipment to the Chinese and Americans.

M GALLEY, by email

YEP Letters: April 16