The plight of the pits emerged as a result of British Coal's review of its Northern Group collieries. British Coal held meetings with unions to discuss the pits yesterday. The company, which plans further urgent meetings on the three mines, said: 'The review was held against the background of an increasingly serious imbalance between coal demand and supply and unfavourable market prospects.'
Ken Capstick, the Yorkshire region vice-chairman of the National Union of Mineworkers, said that closing the three pits would be absolutely devastating for the local communities. 'It is a disastrous situation which has go nothing to do with the market - it is purely because of government policy. We are rapidly moving towards a situation where we are not going to have a coal industry,' he said.
Mr Capstick added that local towns and villages were totally dependent on the three pits and that miners had been working hard to keep them open.
British Coal has said that the amount of coal burnt in UK power stations this year will be 7 million tons less than expected because of the increased use of nuclear power and natural gas in electricity generation. Half of that 7 million tons would have been supplied by pits in Yorkshire.
Alan Houghton, the director of British Coal's Northern Group, told local union leaders that energy market developments since publication of the Government's Coal Review in March had almost eliminated the potential for more coal sales in the current financial year. Adding to the problem are about 30 million tons of stockpiled coal held by British Coal's main customers, National Power and PowerGen.
British Coal said that the reduced market has put a strangle-hold on Bentley colliery, where 450 people work. Frickley, with a workforce of 740, lost pounds 1.8m in the six months to the end of September and Hatfield lost pounds 8.3m in the period under review. The mines have been in operation for between 80 and 90 years.
Of the 12 'reprieved' mines, Markham in Derbyshire has already closed and miners at Rufford in Nottinghamshire have agreed to closure.
Last week, British Coal announced the imminent closure of a third, Calverton near Nottingham, with the loss of 640 jobs.
About 21,000 men, more than half the mining workforce, have left the industry since October 1992.