A hundred years ago more than a million men made their living digging coal from deep beneath U.K. soil. As of today there will be none.
Britain’s last underground coal mine closes on Friday, calling time on an industry that helped propel the U.K. to superpower status in the 19th century. While the underground coal mining industry has been defying a final death since Margaret Thatcher’s assault in the 1980s, a collapse in coal prices and the accelerating fight against climate change has pushed them over the edge.
Kellingley Colliery, near Leeds in West Yorkshire, will close today, following the July closure of Thoresby in Nottinghamshire. The U.K. coal industry will now consist of a handful of opencast mines that will produce about 8 million tons of the fuel a year. U.K. output hit a record 292 million tons in 1913.
While coal has been mined in the U.K. since before the Roman invasion, the industry really took off during the industrial revolution. By the dawn of the 20th century there were more than 3,000 deep mines, stretching from South Wales to Yorkshire.
The U.K., which imported 42 million tons of coal last year, is seeking to phase out the dirtiest coal-fired power plants, replacing them with nuclear and gas to try and balance reductions in carbon pollution with the need to protect consumers from rising costs. Coal plants that aren’t fitted with equipment to capture emissions will be closed by 2025.
As well as losing support from governments around the world, the coal industry has been broadsided by the rise of cheap shale gas that has decimated prices. Producers around the world are shutting mines, while U.S. coal producers Alpha Natural Resources Inc., Patriot Coal Corp. and Walter Energy Inc. have sought bankruptcy protection this year.