Selby Coalfield - History


In 1974 the Labour Government and National Coal Board (NCB), backed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) initiated a decade long ambitious expansion of coal production, named the Plan for Coal; the plan was based on maximising income from indigenous coal reserves at a time when oil prices had risen (1973 oil crisis) to above that of coal. The plan included continued closure of older pits, and investment in new capacity; Selby Coalfield was a major element of the plan.

Exploratory drilling in the Selby area had taken place in the 1960s, and detailed exploration was carried out in the early 1970s, showing that a northern extension of the 'Barnsley Seam' was present and between 1.9 and 3.25 m thick, resulting in an estimate of 600 million tonnes of coal in the seam, with total estimated coal reserves of 2,000 million tonnes. Open extraction would have required a stripping ratio of around 500:1 so the coal was extracted by underground mining. A geological report "Coal reserves in the Selby Area" was published 1972, and planning permission sought for a mine in 1974, which was given in 1976 after opposition, including concerns about flooding of low lying land due to subsidence; extraction was limited to the Barnsley seam, though other seams existed.

The project was formally inaugurated by the Duchess of Kent in 1976. Initial estimates were for a construction cost of £400 million, with 4,000 people employed, with extraction beginning in the early 1980s and lasting for 40 years, producing 10 million tons per year. The scheme used an unusual arrangement of pits in the coal field – all coal was brought to the surface at the drift mine of Gascoigne Wood, whilst five pits were created to the east (Wistow, North Selby, Ricall, Stillingfleet, and Whitemoor) which transferred their coal via underground tunnels to Gascoigne Wood. As part of the construction processes the NCB paid for diversion of the East Coast Main Line from Selby to avoid areas that could be subject to mining subsidence. Above ground equipment such as the winding gear was constructed enclosed by cladding, and with limited height to limit the visual on the environment, which was a predominately rural landscape. Shafts for the pits began to be sunk in the late 1970s, in 1983 the Wistow Mine began production.

The new mine produced no coal in 1984/5 due to the UK miners' strike (1984–1985). Gascoigne Wood was the scene of clashes between pickets and police.

Output steadily rose during from 1984 to 1994, reaching 10 million tonnes p.a. in 1992–93.

In 1993/4 the complex had peak output of 12 million tonnes p.a. In 1994 the Coal Industry Act created the legal framework for the breakup of British Coal; in 1995 the coalfield was acquired by RJB Mining. Geological problems caused some coal seams to be ignored, and Whitemoor Mine merged with Riccall Mine in 1996, North Selby Mine merged with Stillingfleet Mine in 1997. By 2000 production was 4.4 million tonnes p.a.

Between 1995 and 1999 the operation turned from being successfully profitable to loss making, the first loss was recorded in 1999; relatively fixed costs associated with the single exit point at Gascoigne Wood meant that the mine became less profitable as production was reduced at the five pits. By 2000 the loss was (£30 million pa), and received no subsidy; in 2002 the closure of the Selby coalfield in 2003/4 was announced by UK Coal. Mining ended in 2004 at Wistow (May), Stillingfleet (July), and Riccall (October). The total amount of coal mined was 121 million tonnes.

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