Coal in United Kingdom

Recoverable reserves108Mtoe

Production12.7Mtoe per year

The country has significant, potentially economic, hard coal resources estimated at 3,000 million tonnes. About 600 million tonnes of reserves are available in existing deep mines or in shallow deposits capable of being extracted by surface mining. In addition, currently inaccessible resources have the potential to provide many years of future production at present levels. There is also about 500 million tonnes of lignite resources, mainly in Northern Ireland, although none is mined or consumed at present.

The UK consumed 64.1 million tonnes of coal in 2012, including 54.9 million tonnes in power stations.

Coal imports to the UK were 44.8 million tonnes, a large increase (+37.7%) on the previous year’s amount, mainly as a result of a dramatic increase in electricity generated from coal. Indigenous production was 9.9% less than the previous year at 16.8 million tonnes. (Over the year, 3.0 million tonnes was lifted from stock, compared to 0.8 million tonnes in 2011.)

Coal-fired power stations provided 41% of the UK’s electricity (gas 26%,  nuclear 20%, others (including renewables) 13%).

Production rose to a peak of nearly 300 million tonnes/yr during World War I and thereafter did not fall below 200 million tonnes/yr until 1960. Output began a long-term decline in the mid-1960s, falling to less than 100 million t/year by 1990.

The UK coal industry was privatised at the end of 1994, with the principal purchaser being RJB Mining (now UK Coal plc), which acquired 16 deep mines from British Coal. There is now virtually no UK production of coking coal..

The decline of the British coal industry has been accompanied by a sharp decrease in economically recoverable reserves. This assessment, and all other UK coal resources/ reserves data reported by the Member Committee, have been supplied by the Coal Authority, the body which regulates the licensing of British coalmines and performs the residual functions of the former British Coal.

The amount of coal in place that hosts the proved recoverable reserves is put at 386 million tonnes, implying an average recovery factor of 0.59. At lower levels of confidence are a ‘probable’ amount in place of 262 million tonnes, of which 155 is deemed to be recoverable (also with a recovery factor of 0.59), and a ‘possible’ in situ tonnage of 2 527 million tonnes, of which 1 396 (55%) is classed as recoverable. A further amount of 1 636 million tonnes is reported by the Member Committee as representing potential additional recovery from known resources. The UK’s known resources of coal are dwarfed by its undiscovered resources, with nearly 185 billion tonnes estimated to be in place, of which about 41 billion is deemed to be recoverable.