Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine, South Wales, United Kingdom

Since 2003, the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG), Reclaim the Power and other groups have resisted the largest UK opencast coal mine at Ffos-y-Fran in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.


Description

Since 2003, the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG) have resisted opencast mining at Ffos-y-Fran, and proposals for further extraction at neighbouring Nant Llesg. Opposition has centered on the health impacts of coal dust, the visual impact of mining on the landscape, and the role of coal in aggravating climate change. In May 2016 Reclaim the Power activists held an 'End Coal Now' protest camp at the site in solidarity with local campaigners. In 2017, a UN's Special Rapporteur  recommended an independent inquiry into the health impacts of the mine on the local community. The End Coal Now camp at the site of the UK’s largest opencast coalmine, Ffos-y-Fran in South Wales brought together, in 2016, hundreds of people from the UK and Europe. They converged on a moorland adjacent to Ffos-y-Fran, a massive excavation spanning 1000 acres and itself situated only a few hundred meters away from the town of Merthyr Tydfil (an industrial town in the past that by 1831 had already witnessed a general strike). [1]. This is  near the site of the Aberfan disaster of 1966,when 144 people, including 116 children, died when a mountain of mining slag collapsed onto houses and the village school. Many think that the reclamation and coal mining scheme in Ffos-y-Fran is mainly about mining and less about reclamation. It started in a storm of protest in 2007. According to the company, 1000 acres of ‘acutely derelict and dangerous’ ex-industrial land will be restored to its former condition and returned, at no cost to the public purse, to common ownership. "So far so good. But there’s a catch. Before this restoration takes place, 10 million tonnes of coal will be extracted from the ground, much of it destined for the Aberthaw power station." [8].  Similar to the Ende Gelände movement in Germany, “the camp of May 2016 culminated with a mass protest action, an act of civil disobedience designed to generate maximum impact magnifying the ongoing struggle to transition away from fossil fuels. Over 300 protesters entered the mine to temporarily halt operations, indicating a turn away from activities within established legal and institutional structures to prefigurative actions that transgressed the political logic of the state, mobilizing collective power to interrupt the flow of energy”.[1] The protesters traced a Red Line on the ground. The proposed open cast mine would produce about 11 million tons of coal (for the 1500 MW coal fired power plant), and demonstrators made a point that this represents over 30 million tons of carbon dioxide. The link to climate change has been very explicit in the campaign, as in some many other actions in Europe on “leaving coal in the hole”. There is solidarity with other anti-coal movements. For instance, at  the camp, Rumana Hashem, founder of the Phulbari Solidarity Group and executive member of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Respurces, Power and Port in Bangladesh, spoke to a full tent of activists  [4], "connecting experiences in Wales with struggles elsewhere to secure environmental justice" [1].   =====================================                                         Ffos-y-Fran is in world terms a small coal mine (one million tons per year at most) but it is the biggest opencast coalmine in the UK.

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Basic Data
NameFfos-y-fran opencast coal mine, South Wales, United Kingdom
CountryUnited Kingdom
ProvinceSouth Wales
SiteMerthyr Tydfil
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Coal extraction and processing
Specific CommoditiesCoal
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsApproximately, 11 million tonnes of coal extracted over a 20 to 30 year period from this opencast mine in Merthyr Tydfil . The scheme at peak production extracts 20,000 tonnes of coal per week. The company itself advertises the project as "the Ffos-y-fran land reclamation scheme, a major opencast coaling operation." Work at site began in 2007. The operators Miller Argent (South Wales) Limited also administer the Ffos-y-fran Community Fund, where they donate £1 for every ton of coal mined from the site for it to be administered to local projects by Merthyr Tydfil Council , which reached the £5m mark in 2015.

In 2017, the company announces an extension in Nant Llesg: "We are a mining and resources company that has been responsibly operating “The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme” in the Merthyr Tydfil Area since 2007. Alongside mining quality coal, we are restoring land that was once derelict, unstable and unsightly, to create a much improved environment which will benefit local people, hill farming and wildlife. We have now submitted a planning proposal for a second project incorporating surface mining and land remediation to Caerphilly County Borough Council. The proposed site is called Nant Llesg, located at the Heads of the Valley between Merthyr and Rhymney." On the 5th of August 2015, local campaigners and climate change activists tought they had stopped this new coal mine, when Caerphilly Councillors refused Miller Argent’s application to mine Nant Llesg. [5]

"The Miller Group has an annual turnover in excess of 1.2 billion pounds and has net assets in excess of 250 million pounds" [7]. The investment in the so-called reclamation and coal mining operation at Ffos-y-Fran since 2007 to 2017 (with 5 million tons of coal output) must be of the order of USD one hunded million.

Level of Investment (in USD)100.000.000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date01/07/2003
Company Names or State EnterprisesMiller Argent from United Kingdom - Mining company
Relevant government actorsWelsh Assembly

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (former DECC)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersReclaim the Power: https://reclaimthepower.org.uk/

United Valleys Action Group: https://www.facebook.com/United-Valleys-Action-Group-269469983118336/

Friends of the Earth Cymru: https://www.foe.cymru/

350.org
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
"Staging a mock funeral outside the National Assembly for Wales,staging a mock funeral outside the National Assembly for Wales, mobilizing 9000 people to submit letters of objection prior to the Nant Llesg planning decision, and undertaking legal action in the form of a Group Litigation Order (GLO) submitted against Argent Miller at the Cardiff District Registry by over 500 claimants " [1]. Occupation of the mining site, symbolic civil disobedience.
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming
Potential: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
OtherCoal-dust related respiratory illnesses. "Airborne toxins and particulate matter derived from coal can increase respiratory complaints, cancers, and heart and kidney diseases" [1].
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Development of Alternatives"From the outset, RtP (Reclaim the Power) made clear that the demand to end coal was coupled with a call for green jobs, recognizing the need for a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels that prioritizes social justice and protects workers in the structural shift towards a low carbon economy ". "Our demand is not only to leave fossil fuels in the ground…but also for the creation of rewarding employment opportunities for all, in an economy which respects our planet and all its inhabitants, now and in the future.’[1].
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The mine is in operation and further extensions are planned. The opposition movement is strong. The company claims that the landscape is being restored. Further research into the health impacts (respiratory illnesses) are asked for by neighbours and civil society organizations. Companies do not face the liabilities that their own operations create.
Sources and Materials
Legislations

European Parliament. Petition 0617/2008 by Richard M Buxton (British), on behalf of Residents against Ffos-y-fran, on the detrimental impact of the opencast mining at Ffos-y-fran, Merthyr Tydfil (South Wales) on the health of the residents (and it subsequent disappointing results).
[click to view]

[7] Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence. Memorandum submitted by Miller Argent (2007).
[click to view]

References

[1] Geoforum, 85, Oct. 2017, Resisting coal: Hydrocarbon politics and assemblages of protest in the UK and Indonesia. Benjamin Brown & Samuel J.Spiegel
[click to view]

Links

[8] Nick Hunt, A Failure of Vision, July 2009
[click to view]

The Guardian, 3 May 2016, Climate protesters invade UK's largest opencast coalmine. Hundreds of activists take control of vast site and bring operations to a halt as part of a coordinated global direct action against fossil fuel companies. Steven Morris.
[click to view]

G. Monbiot's article in The Guardian in 2007, explaining the technicalities of the Ffos-y-Fran mine, against a "A New Coal Age".
[click to view]

Climate activism in a new era: why climate justice is worth the fight

[6] KELVIN MASON 2 June 2017. Fighting for climate justice is becoming increasingly difficult, as shown by the conviction of five protesters in Wales.
[click to view]

Media Links

[2]Friends of the Earth Wales. UN EXPERT SUPPORTS LOCAL CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST FFOSYFRAN. Submitted by Ffion on May 9th, 2017.
[click to view]

This is what the controversial opencast coal mine Ffos-y-fran at the Merthyr Tydfil coalfield in South Wales looks like from the road. Basically it's a huge black open scar on the landscape.
[click to view]

[5] Kelvin Mason, No coal comfort (IWA think tank)
[click to view]

[3] “Today, we were sentenced to pay £10,000 compensation charges to Miller Argent Ltd, after pleading guilty to aggravated trespass by shutting down Ffos-y-fran coal mine for one day. By Andrea Brock, Chris Field, Rick Felgate, Kim Turner and The Canary (8th May 2017)”
[click to view]

[4] Phulbari Solidarity Group. In opposition to the proposed open-pit mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. Protesters blockade and shut down UK’s largest open-cast mine in Merthyr Tydfil. Report on Powerful Campaign Against Open-Pit Coal Mine at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales

By Paul Dudman (@PaulDudman)
[click to view]

Other Documents

Protestors at Ffos-y-Fran, May 2016
[click to view]

Reclaim the Power
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update28/08/2017
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