15 January 2013

S4M-04875 Coal Industry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-04875, in the name of Adam Ingram, on the Scottish coal industry. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the importance of the coal industry, which it considers has been and remains a significant contributor to local and rural economies in East Ayrshire, Fife, South Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, North Lanarkshire, Midlothian and West Lothian; considers the industry a mainstay occupation in the Scottish economy, generating £450 million of economic value to Scotland every year and, with its wider supply chain, employing on average 4,000 people; welcomes the fact that two Scottish projects are being considered to take forward the next phase of the UK Government’s £1 billion carbon capture and storage programme to demonstrate the potential to greatly reduce the carbon impact of fossil fuel power generation as Scotland moves to a low-carbon future, but is concerned that future investment in the industry is being threatened by an adverse and unintended effect of the carbon reduction commitment and proposals by the Office of Rail Regulation to hike freight access charges for Scottish coal producers.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Adam Ingram for the opportunity to debate this important subject. Anne McTaggart said that many of us have family members with connections to the industry. The 1841 census for Muir of Bannockburn showed that 328 Stevensons lived in the area, almost all of whom were miners. One of them was James Stevenson, who was my great-grandfather. His father, John Stevenson, probably died in the 1830s in a mining accident. Of course, in those days they did not even bother to record deaths in the mining industry, so I shall probably never get to the reality of that. However, the mining industry touches families across Scotland, including perhaps quite unlikely families, it might be thought.

I want to touch on an experience that I had as a minister, when I visited the Nith at the request of the fishing interests there. I found a fascinating coalition of interests, with a huge environmental benefit, between the opencast mining industry and the salmon fishing industry. With the need to open up ground to get access to coal in the area, there was a need to reroute the River Nith.

The consequence of doing that and restoring the Nith has been to dramatically reduce the pollution, which has given it a much more effective environment for salmon—four times as many salmon now reach the headwaters of the Nith as was the case before the opencast coal mining industry. When we consider the coal mining and other industries that can be polluting, we need to see opportunities for those industries to work for the benefit of communities, in terms not only of the employment that they give—substantial as that unquestionably is—but of the related environmental benefits.

In capturing, via carbon capture and storage, the carbon dioxide that comes from the combustion of coal, we are playing to a secure local supply of energy. That is to be preferred to putting ourselves in the situation of importing—as the UK Government appears to want to do—wood, coal and gas from across the world. It is clear that being self-sufficient in energy is important.

Carbon capture has huge economic opportunities as a technology, not only because we can export it but because we have the depleted oil reservoirs in the North Sea into which we can pump our own and others’ CO2 . The abandoned Miller field is a particularly good example of where we can put our CO2. It was a sour oilfield—the oil that came out was acidic, so the pipes that go to the field are more resistant to acidic corrosion than other pipes to oilfields. Of course, carbonic acid is mildly acidic, so that is the perfect first field that we might contemplate using—and with a reduced cost of doing so.

I did a quick sum on rail access. If the cost increases by £4 a tonne, that is £9,200 per train, which puts that access cost into context. The rail network is a national asset that should be bound, in Scottish terms, by the public bodies’ duties in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. They should give due intent to carrying freight on the rail network. If only that was the case more generally. I hope that we see a more effective regime for carrying freight on the rail network; it has a big role to play.


Stewart Stevenson
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