KNOTTINGLEY, England—The last deep-pit coal mine in the U.K. plans to shut its doors here next week, heralding the end of a centuries-old industry that helped fuel the industrial revolution and build the British Empire.
The shutdown, targeted for next Friday, represents a victory for advocates of reducing carbon emissions after world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss how to combat global warming, with coal in the cross hairs. It also reflects a glut of energy on world markets, from crude oil to natural gas and coal itself.
Coal mines have been closing around the world in the past year, from the U.S. to South Africa to the U.K. as prices plunged. But in no country has the industry witnessed such a dramatic fall from grace as in the U.K., where coal production was once seen as the backbone of the nation’s industrial economy, the fuel for everything from steamboats to power plants.
George Orwell, in his 1937 book “The Road to Wigan Pier,” wrote: “Our civilisation…is founded on coal.”
No longer. Deep-mine coal production in the U.K. hit an all-time low of 3.7 million metric tons in 2014, down from a peak of 217 million tons in 1954, according to the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. At the time, about 1,330 deep-pit mines accounted for 95% of the U.K.’s coal production.
That number will hit zero with this month’s closing of U.K. Coal’s Kellingley Colliery, which has been operating since 1965 about a 30 mile drive from the historic city of York. A small number of “open-cast” surface mines in the U.K. will continue to produce.
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