The flights of wild geese follow one another in the sky, straight to the north and nearby Scotland. To the east, we can make out the snow-capped mountains of the Lake District region, a hotspot for British tourism. Vast horizons, expanses of wild grass bordered by a picturesque coastal path: the place is ideal for taking your dog out. This resplendent Friday at the end of January, a few dozen walkers wander around watching theirs, cocker spaniels, labradors or German shepherds.
This site, Woodhouse, on the outskirts of the town of Whitehaven, in the county of Cumbria, in the north-west of the United Kingdom, hosted one of the largest chemical complexes in Europe: the manufacturer of detergents Marchon. This closed in the 1990s. The buildings were razed. It is at the southern end of this immense land overlooking the sea that the future underground coal mine of West Cumbria Mining (WCM), the first of its kind in almost thirty years in the country, should be dug.
This British company, whose main shareholder is EMR, an Australian investment fund, obtained the green light from the conservative government of Rishi Sunak on December 7, 2022, arousing the anger of environmental protection associations. If the project sees the light of day, it will go against the environmental promises of London, which assured during the COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland), in 2021, to want to give up coal by 2024, then seeming to close a story of several centuries with this “black gold” that helped build the British Empire.
“Ecological and economic nonsense”
WCM assures that the coal from the bowels of Whitehaven will be used for the manufacture of steel and not for the production of electricity. It will be transformed into coke (almost pure carbon, used to produce cast iron in blast furnaces) and will be as close as possible to European steelworks, which will limit CO emissions.2 related to the transport of coke from Asia. As for the extraction facilities, they will be covered to limit dust emissions, according to the company’s website, which refuses any interview.
Finally, the company says it wants to create up to 500 local jobs. Not negligible: Whitehaven, 25,000 inhabitants, was until the 1980s a mecca for coal mining, but the last mine, Haig Colliery, closed in 1986. And, since the closure of Marchon, the only major employer private area is the Sellafield nuclear site, about ten kilometers south of Whitehaven.
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