THREE major collieries in the North East which were closed could still be producing coal today and paying their way, according to a mining expert from the region.
The current price of coal and declining oil and natural gas reserves would have made Westoe in South Shields, Wearmouth in Sunderland and Easington in County Durham viable, says Dr Eric Wade.
“The closures of these collieries was a tragedy in a sense because we need coal,” said Dr Wade. “We now import eight million tonnes of coal a year into the Tyne and 45m tonnes nationally.
“There is no question that these three collieries would have paid their way with the price of coal today.”
On Saturday The Journal reported energy regulator Ofgem’s warning that the UK could face a power shortfall within three years.
Dr Wade is vice president of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, in Newcastle.
He is also senior visiting research fellow in mining history at the Open University, based in Gateshead and visiting research fellow in mine geology at Durham University.
He predicted that, because of the demand for energy, it is likely that the North East’s coal reserves will be tapped in the future.
“We know that there are considerable reserves in the North East, particularly offshore, and work is being done on the viability of exploiting these in new ways,” he said.
“We need energy and we have got to look at ways of producing it,” said Dr Wade, who lives in Gosforth in Newcastle. “Are we going to continue to import coal or do we look again at the resources within our grasp? I hope we will and I think it could happen.” He said that methods could include tapping methane in old workings or drilling into coal seams to release the gas.
Coal could also be ignited underground to produce gas.
Dr Wade began his working life in the 1950s as an apprentice mine surveyor at Broomhill Colliery in Northumberland, where his father was a pit deputy.
After taking night classes at Ashington Mining School, he studied mining at King’s College in Newcastle.
His next step was to study for a PhD in mining at Newcastle University and then move to Cambridge University to study economics.
CAUSE OF PIT EXPLOSION TO BE EXPLORED
THE cause of the explosion 200 years ago which killed 92 men and boys at Felling pit in Gateshead will be explored by Dr Eric Wade in a talk later this week.
He will also look at the later advances in mining safety, legislation and trade unionism.
The annual Thomas Hepburn Lecture, organised by Gateshead Council, commemorates the pivotal role that Gateshead’s Thomas Hepburn played in the formation of the first miners’ union and in improving safety for pitmen.
The free lecture takes place at 6pm on Friday at Gateshead Old Town Hall and places can be booked via the What’s On section of the Gateshead Council website, or by calling the box office on 0191 433 6965.
Dr Wade said: “The Felling Colliery Disaster was the first mining disaster to be given national prominence. Prior to 1812, mining accidents and disasters were hardly recorded in the Press or subject to a magistrate’s inquest.”
He said that the methane gas explosion at Felling happened because ventilation was inadequate and candles used for illumination provided the means of ignition.
A key factor was the way coal hewers worked while tackling joints in the seam and the need to take out large chunks of coal, which released methane.
There was no regulation and it was not until 1850 that the first mining inspectors were appointed and two years later the Mining Institute in Newcastle opened.