The Cumbrian metallurgical coal project, also known as the Woodhouse Colliery project or the Whitehaven coking coal project, will be the UK’s first underground coal mine to be developed in the last three decades.
The £175m ($220m) project is being developed by West Cumbria Mining (WCM), an UK-based private company in which Australian private equity firm EMR Capital Investment owns a majority stake.
WCM received planning approval from the Cumbria County Council (CCC) to develop the Woodhouse Colliery in March 2019 and completed the definitive feasibility study (DFS) for the project in June 2019.
Construction works are expected to begin in early-2020, while the start of coal production is scheduled for 2021.
The Cumbrian metallurgical coal project is expected to produce up to 2.5 million tonnes (Mt) of high-quality coking coal a year, over its estimated mine life of 40 years.
Cumbrian coal project location and site details
The mining site for the project comprises the sea bed off the coast of St Bees, next to the Haig Pit of the former colliery in Whitehaven, which produced 48Mt of coal before it was shut down in 1985 after more than 70 years of operations.
WCM holds licenses for a total area of 200km² offshore Whitehaven, West Cambria.
The processing plant for the Cumbrian metallurgical coal project is planned to be developed at Kells, in the former Marchon industrial site near Whitehaven.
Woodhouse Colliery project development background
WCM conceived the development plan for the Cumbrian coal project in early-2014 and secured £14.7m of private equity financing from EMR Capital in August 2014.
The company carried out extensive onshore and offshore test drilling before submitting the
planning application for the project to the Cumbria County Council (CCC) in May 2017.
The pre-feasibility study was completed in May 2016, while an interim DFS for the project was completed in July 2017.
Geology and mineralisation
The West Cumbrian coalfield comprises four main coal seams namely Tenquarters, Bannock Band, Main Band, and Sixquarters, approximately 350m below the ground.
The Woodhouse colliery project targets the Bannock Band and Main Band main coal seams, each of which has an average thickness of 2.4m.
Hosted within the Carboniferous Coal measures formation, the deposits of the Woodhouse Colliery host highly volatile, hard coking coal (HV HCC) that contains less than 4% ash and less than 0.01% phosphorus and provides good furnace performance characteristics.
Mining and ore processing
The underground coal mining operations at the Cumbrian project will employ the run-out and pocket partial extraction method.
Bolter miners, continuous miner machine, mobile roof supports, and feeder breaker will be deployed for the coal extraction.
The offshore underground coal seams in the Irish Sea will be accessed through the existing Sandwith Anhydrite mine portals on the Marchon site.
The extracted coal will be brought on to the surface and sent to the 3.1Mtpa processing plant via drifts. The processing plant will produce up to 2.5 Mtpa of metallurgical coal, along with 350,00t of low-grade middlings coal and 150,000t of rock overburden a year.
Coal export from the Cumbrian mine
The processed coal will be delivered to a train loading facility at Pow Beck Valley, near Mirehouse, via a 2.2km-long buried conveyor.
The train loading facility will provide a direct rail connection to the Redcar Bulk Terminal located in North Yorkshire on England’s east coast, from where the coal will be shipped further to major European steel markets.
The project is also expected to supply coal to the steel plants at Scunthorpe and Port Talbot, for domestic steel production.
Royal Haskoning was contracted to provide resource estimation, while Priority Drilling was appointed as the drilling contractor for the project, in October 2014.
Hargreaves was engaged as a specialist contractor for the Cumbrian metallurgical coal project.