Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Increasing interest in deep mining

The Scotsman ran an interesting story this week about deep coal mining:

Coal chief calls for return to deep mining to fuel power-station pledge
Published Date: 02 February 2009

By Erikka Askeland and Jane Bradley

The head of the UK's largest coal producer has said that a return to deep mining north of the Border is essential if the Scottish Government is to follow through on its commitment to coal-fired power stations. Don Nicolson, the new chief executive of the Scottish Resources Group, which owns several firms, including Scottish Coal, told The Scotsman that there are "perhaps billions of tonnes" of coal in Scotland that could not be accessed by surface mining. He said: "There are millions of tonnes, perhaps billions of tonnes of coal in Scotland. A small fraction you can get at through surface mining. If coal was to become part of our long-term future, which we think it will, then you need to go deep. That is where the bulk of the coal reserves are."

It is interesting to note that deep mining is coming back onto the agenda. Unfortunately, re-establishing deep mining in areas that have abandoned workings is far from simple. For example, the most accessible locations have probably already been mined out; accidentally mining into abandoned workings is problematic; and managing groundwater can be a real challenge. Of course there is also a substantial issue with carbon dioxide emissions from the coal, such that it is likely that carbon capture and storage will be required. All of these issues require substantial amounts of research and probably the development of new technologies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


This is the new blog site for the Boulby Geoscience project, which is run by the University of Durham and funded by ONE Northeast. I will be using this site to provide regular updates on the development of the project and on underground geoscience in general.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Potash

In the meantime, here is a little more information about the project:

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, society is facing a set of serious challenges with a geological origin. Key amongst these are:

1. The threats associated with increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the associated changes in climate and sea level;
2. Threats associated with the reducing availability of oil and gas reserves at a time in which demand is increasing rapidly;
3. In conjunction with 2., increasing scarcity of natural resources such as metals and fertilisers, manifested as rapid increases in commodity prices.

All of these issues are having direct and important impacts on society. For example, high hydrocarbon costs are now threatening the economy of both developed and developing economies.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Potash

Overcoming the above requires a great deal of investment and a long and intense geoscience research programme. There are substantial opportunities associated with these programmes as successful research has the potential to literally change the world. However, at present this research is hugely constrained by the lack of appropriate real world research facilities. What is needed is a test site in that would allow experiments into, for example:

1. Ways to maximise extraction of oil and gas from natural reservoirs;
2. Processes for the sequestering (storage) of carbon dioxide underground;
3. Improved mining technologies;
4. Ways to improve the mining of valuable ores and minerals;

This project is designed to create such a facility, which would be genuinely unique. Thus, In order of importance, the project will:

1. Detail the opportunities for the development of a deep geoscience facility at Boulby, which is the only potash mine in the UK, ultimately placing North-East England at the heart of the development of new energy and environment technologies;
2. Demonstrate the viability of the Boulby mine site for underground geoscience research;
3. Develop detailed plans for the implementation of the detailed design phase , including the establishment of the range of facilities required;
4. Advance underground science in terms of rock mechanics, geophysical processes and hydrogeology and the coupling between subsurface and surface processes;
5. Raise awareness regionally, nationally and internationally of the potential offered by the Boulby facility;
6. Provide science-led engagement between the NE geoscience community and local business and government;
7. Attract inward investment in terms of research and development;
8. Create science-led employment through the establishment of at least one science-led spin-out company;
9. Offer training and development opportunities to local SMEs and major employers.