Little known (or conveniently forgotten) reason for 1926 miners strike recalled – Dr Fred Starr

In response to a query about reserves, Dr Starr wrote:
(note- it is shocking how people are not aware that our coal reserves are extremely limited,)
Dear Greg,
If no one has anything better, here is a slightly incomplete UK coal production. This has been compiled from various sources over the past few years.
Peak was 1913 when we were exporting 100 million tons at a price of around £1 per ton. This might be equivalent to £50 per ton today (or higher?).
UK coal exports began to get uncompetitive after WWI, and was one of the main reasons for the 1926 General Strike, when the coal owners wanted to reduce wages.
Coal output was insufficient in WWII (and afterwards) and was one reason for sending one in every ten
conscripted men down the mines
UK coal reserves are now given as somewhere between 400-800 million tonnes. Not the billions that everyone supposes.
If the UK energy system was totally dependent on coal, as it used to be, these stocks would last 2-4 years.
Fred Starr.(As Roger Button has pointed out, up to about 1930, virtually all energy in the UK was, at some point in its ultimate delivery to peoples’ houses conveyed in coal trucks  – hauled by coal fired steam engines, either for burning directly in coal fires, or as gas via the local gas works or as electricity via the local power station  – Ed)
A further note from Dr Starr plus the above graph:
Sent: 19 February 2009 02:33
Subject: UK Coal Production 1700 to 2007
Dear All

Here is a graph of UK coal production from 1700

onwards.Output is now approaching the level of the

1820s.

The message is that there is no coal left in the UK.

We are currently importing 50 million tonnes plus/y.

Fred Starr

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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8 Comments

  1. ferrand stobart - February 16, 2009, 10:09 pm Reply

    My family’s pit, Wearmouth, which was sunk about 1825 and closed about 1994 then the oldest continuously worked pit in the World, had, according to my father who was the mine engineer in the 1930/40 period, many square miles of un tapped coal seams under the North Sea. The pit finished with a 10 mile tunnel out to sea.

    To access these vest coal reserves could entail new methods of shaft sinking – out to sea -

    But the coal is down there.

  2. Avatar of Dave Andrews

    Dave Andrews - February 18, 2009, 10:39 pm Reply

    Dear Ferrand

    First, in thinking about the graph I sent, two thirds of the period of coal mining was on the rise….one third was on the decline. Does this sound like a good rule of thumb for how energy and other mineral resources are used up?

    But, yes there is coal left, like there are a few micrograms of gold in every cubic kilometre of seawater.Prof Haber of the ammonia process tried to solve Germany’s economic crisis by developing techniques to extract.

    Prof Thrale pointed out, fifty years ago, that new methods of mining, using mini-robots was necessary to exploit unmineable reserves.Nothing has been done.

    Instead the trend has been to develop mining machines and techniques which can only be used in nice thick, level seams……and please do not mention underground gasification!

    Best regards

    Fred

    — ferrand

    > Fred,
    > My gt gt grandfather sank Wearmouth Pit, near Sunderland, in about
    > 1830. The family ran it until nationalisation. It was closed about
    > 1994, and was then the oldest continuously worked coal mine in the
    > World [Guinness Book of Records] On closure the mine went 10 miles
    > under the North Sea. They held the shift production record, set about
    > 1932, of over 6500 tons.
    >
    > My late father was Mine Engineer in the late 20′s – early 30′s and he
    > once told me that as far as they could judge the coal seams went at
    > least 20-30 miles out to sea, all along the North Durham coast,
    > another family company, the Horden group also exploited this.
    >
    > I agree that we have used up the “easy” coal, but there is still a lot
    > down there if we can develop means to “get at it”, eg pit shafts sunk
    > out to sea ?
    > best regards

    > Andrew [Ferrand] Stobart

  3. Avatar of Dave Andrews

    Dave Andrews - February 23, 2009, 6:31 pm Reply

    From Fred Starr

    The Efficient Use of Fuel 1944. – HM Stationary Office

    With the exception of petroleum oil, substantially all fuel used in this country either consist of raw coal or is manufactured from coal; coal is therefore the basis of fuel and power in Great Britain,.

    Fuel Conservation

    Fuel conservation has two main aspects; (10 as a long term policy affecting a national asset of irreplaceable raw material. (2) as a short term policy to meet the urgent needs for reducing consumption during the ware.

    The importance of the long-term policy to posterity requires a little attention. According to Bone and Himus, * the net coal which will be available at the surface will be about 170,000 million tons, This estimate is that of Stanley Jevons, in 1915 of reserves within 4.000 feet of the surface, taking one foot as the minimum workable thickness of seam.
    In 1913, 287 million tons of coal were mined, and in 1938, 227 million tons. It might therefore be supposed that coal will last form 580 to 749 years at these rates of production. This gives an agreeable sense of security, but as as Bone and Himus point out, “ the most important aspect of the coal question for Great Britain, is not so much how long can our reserves last, but how long can we continue to the available coal a a cost which shall not place us as a nation at a disadvantage relative to our nearest competitors.” The answer is not something of the order of 500 – 700 years, but possibly some 50 years or less. A more recent analysis of the position in 1940 by the then President of the Institution of Mining Engineers, Mr. Forster Brown, (Presidential Address, 1940) fully confirms this estimate of the position and emphasizes the probable increase in coal-getting costs. A shortage of certain special types of coal, such as coking coals, may well be experienced with the next two generations. Early consideration will have to be given either for forbidding the use of these coals except for special purposes for which they are peculiarly adapted, or to find a means of making other types of coal suitable for coke manufacture.
    From the war aspect – the short – term policy – the maximum effort must be made no to use fuel with the greatest efficiency. The object of this handbook is to assist in attaining this goal; at the same time the necessity for reorganization of the methods of coal preparation and utilization after the war is clear.

    *Coal, Its constitution and UIEses” p 17 Longman, Geren and Col Lkondon 1936.
    **

  4. Avatar of Dave Andrews

    Dave Andrews - August 14, 2009, 4:50 pm Reply

    From Phillip Harris -

    I see this in the UK Wicks’ Report of last week.
    >” … With major investment in both deep mines and planning
    >permission to exploit further surface mines, UK coal production could
    >be retained at current levels of around 20 million tonnes per year
    >through to at least 2025. …”<>
    UK presently imports a further ~50Mt per year mainly for electrical
    power production. Coal accounts for 35 – 38% of UK electricity, with
    almost no CHP / District Heating. Accounts differ, but somewhere
    between 20 – 40 percent more coal would be needed for CCS (Carbon
    capture). CCS is believed by Wicks to be necessary. Significant
    (one-third) existing UK coal-fired power plant is supposed to go
    off-line by 2016.
    The above production and import numbers contrast with Peak production
    of UK coal in 1913 at just under 300Mt per year (before modern
    machinery that could exploit near-surface open-cast mining). Even
    desperate efforts WWII and post-WWII, failed to raise production near
    to Peak. We could not advance a modern economy on coal much after 1956,
    and nuclear appears not to have been economically successful in UK c.f.
    later 1970s to-date France, and we were not able to efficiently use
    imported coal in the manner of Denmark (CHP/DH) over the same period.
    Sure, cheap oil in 1960s and North Sea gas 1980s, 1990s, gave UK
    temporary substitutes.
    Wicks hopes for underground coal gasification in UK could be wishful thinking.

  5. Avatar of Dave Andrews

    Dave Andrews - August 14, 2009, 6:53 pm Reply

    Dear Phil,

    You asked about underground gasification.

    I used to be enthusiastic but the people concerned don’t seem to know anything about coal mines. The strata which has tended to
    left in Western Europe is extremely complex with the seams at big angles to the horizontal.

    The pictures of underground coal gasification invariably show a two dimensional cross section in which the coal burns from one end of the seam to the other. Seams “go into the page” and this three dimensional structure will make control very difficult.

    If we are to use this coal it will have to be done with some form of semi-intelligent robotic miner. Unfortunately there is no R&D going on in this area.

    As regards the future of the UK coal industry, several years ago I said it would be finished by 2010. I was overly pessimistic. I now tend to go for 2017-2020. But the amount of coal that is being produced represents just a few percent of UK energy use.Very roughly, it is responsible for about 10% of the UK electricity generation.

    Where coal and lignite in the rest of Europe has not finished, it is on the decline. European coal output was a major issue in both Germany and the UK during WWII and was not really capable of satisfying the wartime demands.

    The statistics for each country are all there on Eurostat, if people can be bothered to read them.

    Negative Fred

  6. Avatar of Dave Andrews

    Dave Andrews - August 16, 2009, 4:47 pm Reply

    Dear Chris,

    I am not sure how many “plan for coals” there have been, but they do make amusing reading. Because of the focus on electricity generation, coal is made to appear far more important than it actually is.

    When all UK energy was essentially coal based, we required about 200 million tonnes for home consumption. Taking into account the increase in population and higher standard of living, and improved rate of energy conversion I think that we would need about 350-400 million tonnes. Much of this stems from the massive use of personal transport.

    UK coal at the present time is only cheap because the man power productivity is high…..I think there are less than 10000 miners producing about 20 million tonnes, half of which is open cast

    You have to remember that anything coming out of the NCB was not objective and the attitude was that all coal was mineable. All they required was Government subsidies.Some of the coal that was discovered was at depths of 6000 feet which was basically unmineable.

    The basic question about mining is not its price, it is how much energy has to be put in for the energy extracted. In mining, because at the present time mining is manpower intensive, this is a more difficult question than it appears. A miner can be regarded as piece of machinery with very high servicing costs (he has a house, family, car, holidays etc, all of which use energy. When these are taken into account, along with the more obvious uses of energy mining and mine development uses, the energy exchange is not very good.

    Fred

    — On Fri, 14/8/09, Chris Hodrien wrote:

    > Date: Friday, 14 August, 2009, 9:41 PM
    > Dear Fred – Thanks, very
    > interesting.
    > I’m puzzled re. your pessimism on “reducing” future UK coal
    > output. The NCB “Plan For Coal” exploratory drilling
    > programme in mid-1980s just before it was disbanded
    > identified “technical” new reserves, (many in
    > ‘brand-new’ un-mined areas, e,g. Coventry down to
    > Oxford!) which in their view would be economically*
    > exploitable at c.1980 prices, sufficient to last the UK at
    > about 100 MTPY for 250* years (gross geological reserves
    > were far higher). Yes, the bulk of the existing
    > (mainly Victorian!) mine sites were largely
    > worked-out. Yes there have been site-specific geological
    > problems, e.g Selby. But what killed UK coal output
    > post-1980 was its price being undercut by cheap UK NG and
    > imported coal, not by lack of reserves. Since both those
    > competitors are now on a rising real price trend, especially
    > NG, I reckon we must be already close to the economic
    > break-even point for opening new deep pits in the UK.
    > This is what I find so extraordinary about the gov’t/power
    > industry contemplating building yet another 11 GW of gas
    > combined cycle capacity by 2018, and “happily” contemplating
    > 65-80% gas imports by then. (-even if UK coal output didn’t
    > increase, imported coal would cost less than half for the
    > same energy quantity).
    > Whether we could get environmental planning permission for
    > new pits, or get new young men to volunteer to go down them,
    > is a different issue.
    > I regard Underground coal gasification (UCG) as still
    > highly unproven, with a lot of potentially serious
    > safety/environmental impacts. By contrast, extracting
    > natural methane for the gas grid from coal beds by drilling
    > (much lower energy output) seems very near-market, in fact.
    > Chris.
    > —– Original Message —– From:
    > Sent: Friday, August 14, 2009 7:42 PM
    > Subject: Re: [Claverton] Wicks Report and Peak UK Coal

    >
    >
    > (Claverton)
    >
    >
    > Dear Phil,
    >
    > You asked about underground gasification.
    >
    > I used to be enthusiastic but the people concerned don’t
    > seem to know anything about coal mines. The strata which has
    > tended to
    > left in Western Europe is extremely complex with the seams
    > at big angles to the horizontal.
    >
    > The pictures of underground coal gasification invariably
    > show a two dimensional cross section in which the coal burns
    > from one end of the seam to the other. Seams “go into the
    > page” and this three dimensional structure will make control
    > very difficult.
    >
    > If we are to use this coal it will have to be done with
    > some form of semi-intelligent robotic miner. Unfortunately
    > there is no R&D going on in this area.
    >
    > As regards the future of the UK coal industry, several
    > years ago I said it would be finished by 2010. I was overly
    > pessimistic. I now tend to go for 2017-2020. But the amount
    > of coal that is being produced represents just a few percent
    > of UK energy use.Very roughly, it is responsible for about
    > 10% of the UK electricity generation.
    >
    > Where coal and lignite in the rest of Europe has not
    > finished, it is on the decline. European coal output was a
    > major issue in both Germany and the UK during WWII and was
    > not really capable of satisfying the wartime demands.
    >
    > The statistics for each country are all there on Eurostat,
    > if people can be bothered to read them.
    >
    > Negative Fred
    >
    >
    >
    >
    > > From: Philip Harris
    > > Subject: [Claverton] Wicks Report and Peak UK Coal
    > > To: claverton-group@claverton-energy.com
    > > Date: Friday, 14 August, 2009, 10:34 AM
    > > (Claverton)
    > >
    > >
    > > I posted this on a ToD forum thread recently.
    > >
    > > It struck me that Wicks was being misquoted in the
    > > blogosphere and some essential points lost.
    > > Did I get much wrong?
    > > Fred, on underground gasification?
    > > I take Fred’s recent realism on ‘nice government big
    > > projects’ e.g. CCS, high-speed rail; they become
    > ‘policy’
    > > and nothing happens.
    > > Phil
    > >
    > > ———–
    > >
    > > I see this in the UK Wicks’ Report of last week.
    > > >” … With major investment in both deep mines
    > and
    > > planning
    > > >permission to exploit further surface mines, UK
    > coal
    > > production could
    > > >be retained at current levels of around 20
    > million
    > > tonnes per year
    > > >through to at least 2025. …”<> > >
    > > UK presently imports a further ~50Mt per year mainly
    > for
    > > electrical
    > > power production. Coal accounts for 35 – 38% of UK
    > > electricity, with
    > > almost no CHP / District Heating. Accounts differ,
    > but
    > > somewhere
    > > between 20 – 40 percent more coal would be needed for
    > CCS
    > > (Carbon
    > > capture). CCS is believed by Wicks to be necessary.
    > > Significant
    > > (one-third) existing UK coal-fired power plant is
    > supposed
    > > to go
    > > off-line by 2016.
    > > The above production and import numbers contrast with
    > Peak
    > > production
    > > of UK coal in 1913 at just under 300Mt per year
    > (before
    > > modern
    > > machinery that could exploit near-surface open-cast
    > > mining). Even
    > > desperate efforts WWII and post-WWII, failed to raise
    > > production near
    > > to Peak. We could not advance a modern economy on coal
    > much
    > > after 1956,
    > > and nuclear appears not to have been economically
    > > successful in UK c.f.
    > > later 1970s to-date France, and we were not able to
    > > efficiently use
    > > imported coal in the manner of Denmark (CHP/DH) over
    > the
    > > same period.
    > > Sure, cheap oil in 1960s and North Sea gas 1980s,
    > 1990s,
    > > gave UK
    > > temporary substitutes.
    > > Wicks hopes for underground coal gasification in UK
    > could
    > > be wishful thinking.
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > > _______________________________________________

    >
    >
    >
    >
    > _______________________________________________

    > ——————————————————————————–
    >
    >
    >

    _______________________________________________
    Claverton-Group mailing list
    Claverton-Group@claverton-energy.com
    http://claverton-energy.com/mailman/listinfo/claverton-group_claverton-energy.com

  7. Martin Brumby - February 22, 2012, 12:10 pm Reply

    “Here is a graph of UK coal production from 1700 onwards.Output is now approaching the level of the 1820s.
    The message is that there is no coal left in the UK.”

    Bunkum.

    So the fact that we no longer have a huge sailing fleet proves there isn’t any wind?

    The resource is still there.

    The fact that the Coal Industry is in the state it is, is due to Greenie Dogma, Incompetence, Greed and Malice. As exemplified by the 2008 Climate Change Act, the most expensive and most absurd piece of legislation ever passed – with only 6 MPs voting against.

  8. F Starr - February 22, 2012, 6:20 pm Reply

    Martin Brumley does not appear to have read the series of blogs on this subject. It is undoubtedly true that following the oil price hike in 1973, which affected the UK more than most, efforts were made to increase coal production.The result was a stabilisation of output as new mines were openned and the older one were made more productive.

    Unfortunately no one wanted to or was able to go back to coal, Equipment designed for oil firing is not easy to convert to coal. The CEGB converted a few oil fired steam plants to coal but everyone else switched to gas. The economic model at the time was to exploit the North Sea felds as fast as possible.

    There was therefore a surplus of coal in the 10-20 millions tonnes a year range.The sensible approach would have been to get British Gas to gasify the surplus, but this was on no ones agenda……I guess that there was quite a lot of ill feeling within British Gas to coal, since the Coal Board had treated the Gas industry very badly after the war.

    Coal output might have been maintained at the 100-120 million tons level but costs would have steadlly risen, and eventually new pits would have had to be openned in the Southern Midlands. I understand that these mines are extremely deep, so coal could only be produced at high cost, both in money and damage to the environment.

    The UK economy up to about 1950 was coal based and we then needed about 200 tonnes a year. By the end of the fifties there was a shortfall in coal output and ithe average cost was about 10% more than that of oil.

    My very first wriiten comment on the coal industry was at the age of 16, in 1959 when in the context of an essay on nuclear power I drew attention to this fact.

    Fred Starr

    .

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