Opencast coal uses the principle of extreme mechanisation to minimise workforce and therefore cost to the operator. Instead of complex underground mining processes, opencast literally scrapes away everything above the coal seams buried underground, devastating the surface environment.
Coal companies such as Hargreaves, most Councils in the Central Belt and the Scottish Government justify more opencast by using three flawed arguments job creation, community benefit the need for a secure energy supply. Well look at these in more detail below.
Were principally concerned about four main issues inherent to opencast mining that will make us fight tooth and nail against Cauldhall opencast. These are the impacts on surrounding communities including on community health, the lack of democratic process in determining opencast developments and the environmental impacts of mines. Click on each link to find out more.
Almost all opencast plans are sold to local councils on the promise of job creation (whether the Council actually believes it or not). In these tough economic times the prospect of jobs creation for working class families is a welcome one. But, dont be fooled. Firstly, opencasts dont create more jobs, at best they retain them as the workforce gets shifted from one mine to the next. They certainly dont create local jobs, as workers tend to travel quite far for them.
The jobs are inherently insecure, with sort-term and temporary contracts, meaning union representation is low, and working conditions are dangerous. For example, last year Scottish Coal laid off 200 workers more than a fifth of its workforce, and this year laid all but their highest salaried employees off as their massive debts and restoration costs forced them into liquidation.
A study conducted as part of opposition to Glentaggart East in South Lanarkshire found that despite Scottish Coals claims that its workers are paid wages above the national average, if the long shift hours were taken into consideration, opencast workers get 23% below the national average hourly wage. Coupled with the insecurity, dangerous conditions and lack of local employment, this isnt the kind of job creation that our communities need. So if Scottish Coal claim that Cauldhall will create 230 jobs, you can bet that in reality only a handful of people from surrounding communities will get anything out of it. Theres just too much destruction and impacts on everyone else for that to be justified.
After jobs, these two words are the most misused in the industry. Communities supposedly benefit through job creation (dispelled above), indirect job creation (workers spending their money in local communities most investigations into the impacts on local businesses such as the Airfield Farm study show that the impact is a negative one) and payments into community trust funds.
Weve dealt with jobs, so lets look at community fund contributions. As part of planning and legal agreements, before they went bust, Scottish Coal were required to pay an amount per tonne into a trust fund, to be made available for projects that benefit the communities around the mine (incidentally, thousands of pounds remain unpaid as a result of their liquidation). Firstly, this contribution is usually 25p per tonne, a figure that hasnt changed in over 10 years now irrespective of the change in coal price, inflation, etc. Secondly, lets say the price of coal per tonne is around £50 just now 25p represents a paltry 200th, or 0.5% of that. Which basically says it all about how seriously opencast companies take community benefit.
These trust funds are usually monopolosed and controlled by the mining company and the council, making it inevitable that a lack of community control over them will mean a lack of access to the funds for the community. The trust fund for Scottish Coals Shewington site, next to Cauldhall, is controlled by the council and has had so many problems that local residents want Midlothian Council to have nothing to do with the next one.
A tokenistic contribution to a fund controlled by the people paying into it doesnt sound like community benefit at all.
Opencast companies try to demonstrate the need for energy from coal, as part of a secure energy mix. Coal keeps the lights on, and without coal wed face blackouts, hospitals and schools would lose power and it would all be very scary. Worse still, by depending on imported fuel wed be at the mercy of Russian gas and Arab oil, thus justifying making sacrifice zones of rural areas and communities and continuing to pump millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In reality, the vast majority of the coal mined in Scotland is exported probably around 75% of it across the border to power stations in England such as Drax in Yorkshire. Cauldhall coal will supposedly go to Longannet, but with Longannet facing closure in 2020 becuase of inability to meet sulpher emissions reductions targets, its hard to see why the power station would chose to burn Cauldhalls low-quality coal.
Coal causes the destruction of community health and the environment, and secures only the profits and pay cheques of company directors and shareholders. With catastrophic climate change causing extreme weather all over the world, flooding homes, causing droughts, hurricanes and rising sea levels, coal is making the world an increasingly less secure place.
Cauldhall will be responsible for some 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year through, mining, burning, diesel and transportation. That’s equivalent to 18% of Scotland’s total yearly emissions. Open cast coal is one of the dirtiest fuel sources in the world.
Scottish Coals biggest open cast in South Lanarkshire, Broken Cross, now also taken on by Hargreaves, uses up to half a million litres of diesel a week just on extraction, never mind the haulage of the coal.
If Scotland has any hopes of meeting carbon emission reduction targets, and reducing its contribution to climate change, this coal has to stay in the ground.