THE region’s last surviving coal miners have scorned claims made in a new report that the industry will be dead before the end of the decade.

In about five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, increasing dependency on imports, researchers at the Global Sustainability Institute have warned.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

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By contrast, it claimed Britain has just 5 years of oil, 4-and-a-half years of coal and three years of its own gas remaining.

The institute's Professor Victor Anderson, said: "Coal, oil and gas resources in Europe are running down and we need alternatives.

"The UK urgently needs to be part of a Europe-wide drive to expand renewable energy sources such as wave, wind, tidal, and solar power."

Britain's historic deep coal mining industry is in its final year, after the Government last month decided there was no case for investment to keep two of the last three sites open in the long term.

Ministers have agreed to the "managed closure" of the mines at Kellingley, in North Yorkshire, and Thoresby, in Nottinghamshire. The sites, operated by Britain's largest coal producer, UK Coal, are to be wound down by autumn next year.

However, surface coal mines remain viable, according to bosses at North-East mining firms Banks Group and Hargreaves Services, who say indigenous supplies could last until at least 2030.

Family-owned, Banks Mining based on the outskirts of Durham City, employs about 250 people at its surface mines in the North-East and Scotland.

Barney Pilgrim, project director at firm, is convinced the industry has a future. He said: “Contrary to this report’s findings, which appears to be based around the unrealistic scenario of all fossil fuel imports ceasing with immediate effect, the UK has substantial reserves of identified and recoverable coal available, and through the safe, responsible and efficient operations that Banks carries out under our Development With Care ethos, we are confident of being able to access these reserves for many years to come.

“Around 40 per cent of the energy that we all use in the UK is currently produced through coal, and it makes far greater sense from an economic, environmental, employment and energy security point of view to utilise appropriate domestic supplies rather than relying on imports from potentially-unstable overseas markets.

“Our own Northumberland mining operations currently contribute around £35m to the North- East economy every year through wages and the regional supply chain, as well as more than £400,000 in annual business rates to Northumberland County Council and Newcastle City Council, and we are already working towards surface mining projects that will, if they come to fruition, be operational beyond the date suggested by this report.

“While the proportion of our energy produced using coal is forecast to fall slowly, it will remain central to the UK’s energy strategy for the foreseeable future, and we strongly believe the domestic industry still has much to offer on many levels.”