Mid & South Wales

Thoughts About Coal

Taking a bit of a detour from the usual slate landscape stuff with a shift in focus on another natural resource we have in Wales – coal. I have many many thoughts on this matter so I put together this blog post. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert and this is purely my own opinion. I am quite happy that people will disagree with me and that’s fine. I respect people’s opinions even if I disagree with you… so you need to respect mine. 

Ffos Y Fran


So why am I thinking about coal today? Well it hasn’t come as a surprise that the last coal mine in Wales has now closed. Ffos Y Fran was Wales’ last opencast coal mine and shut doors on November 30th. The mine licence had expired and after protests from people of Merthyr Tydfil the Welsh Government refused to extend the licence. 

Coal – A Dirty Fossil Fuel

To many this is seen as such a dirty resource as it’s a fossil fuel. It can’t be denied that it’s a dirtier product than say solar panels and windfarms. But in this day an age, surely we can look at developing technology to clean the emission somehow? Isn’t that what catalytic converter was designed for? I’m not saying it would work in the context of coal but I’m just saying isn’t there an idea to be explored?

Trangkil No 4 coupled with Howard at Statfold Barn

Coal is necessary for steam engines and of course and whilst the railway heritage industry are trying to come up with suitable alternatives, it’s a slow process I believe. So whilst we’re trying to solve that problem, we have to resort to importing inferior grade coal. Welsh coal is one of the “cleanest” coals you can find. This “steam coal” is high quality and low emission. The imported stuff just can’t compare. I have stood on platforms of heritage railways where imported coal was used and I can tell you, it stinks. It’s dirty black smoke and horrid. The Welsh coal on the other hand produces much cleaner white smoke.

Importing coal just isn’t an option in my opinion. As I say, it’s dirtier and the countries that produce it are very unlikely to be bothered by the climate impact so we’re basically pushing the problem elsewhere. Not only that, the transport impact from having to carry coal from Columbia to the UK also makes it worse. So when campaigners purport that closure of the last Welsh coal mine is an environmental win, well I’m sorry but it’s utter bollocks. It’s virtual signalling in my opinion (for reasons mentioned above).

Employment Loss

These statistics are not official so I may be wrong, but from articles I’ve read over the last few months here’s an overview of the statistics:

  • Employed by the Mine itself: 115 employees
  • Employed in Industry supported by the coal: 4000 at Port Talbot steel works

Obviously the 115 employees at the mine itself will be lost and Tata Steel (who own Port Talbot steel works) have confirmed that around 3/4 of the workforce are at risk. That’s over 3000 jobs being lost in the Valleys. And that’s without even accounting for jobs lost in ancillary services. That is a major blow to the area – an area which has suffered ever since the closure of their previous major industry – yup you’ve guessed it… the collieries.

Dangerous Business

No one could deny that it was dirty work and came with more than it’s fair share of risk. I don’t need to mention mining disasters as Senghenydd (where 440 men lost their lives). Nor do I need to mention the heartbreaking tragedy at Aberfan where 28 innocent little children lost their lives when the slag tip crushed the school. 

These disasters are well documented and technologies change which means risks can be mitigated even further now.

Lost Pride

Last tram of coal from Mardy Colliery 30th June 1986
Last tram of coal from Mardy Colliery 30th June 1986 (seen at Rhondda Heritage Centre)

From my visit to Big Pit at Blaenafon and the Welsh Coal Mining Experience in Rhondda back in April one thing that struck me was the deep sense of pride the coal miners had in being part of that industry. How could we swing from a deep sense of community spirit and pride in one’s work to this seemingly void existence? With the loss of so many jobs the economic blow will be hard but also is there going to be a loss of purpose?

The reports of Merthyr Tydfil residents celebrating the closure of Ffos Y Fran baffles me to be honest. Again I will caveat this statement by saying it’s easy for me not living in it’s shadow.

I find the whole situation sad to be honest. I find it akin to the loss of the slate industry here in North Wales. The loss of major industry has taken it’s toll on towns that were once thriving. Yes I’m thinking of Blaenau Ffestiniog here – a once thriving town now a shell of its former glory. A scene that I was reminded of when driving through the Rhondda valley. 

Maybe I’m viewing the whole industry through rose tinted glasses… privileged in the fact that I never worked in the collieries. (And likely I’m viewing the slate industry with the same rose tinted glasses). 

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Ar Y Tren I Afonwen - Reopening the Afonwen Branchline? -

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