At the beginning of the year, OKD welcomed a team of international engineers with hard coal mining experience from around the world. They work alongside their counterparts at OKD with the aim of introducing new, inspirational hard coal mining knowledge, and to share their know-how so that it might be applied to the exceptionally demanding geological conditions of the Ostrava-Karviná mining district. One of the visiting experts is William J. Schloemer, from Pennsylvania in the US.
William J. Schloemer has 30 years of experience in hard coal mining, accumulated mainly in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern US. Schloemer has extensive skills and understanding in designing, developing and managing projects, including the preparation of new mining sites. “My career started in the early 1980s in what was then the largest hard coal mine in the USA. In years of late, I have managed the operation and development of four very extensive mines for the third largest coal mining company in the USA. The largest of the mines produces approximately 13 million tonnes of coal a year,” said Schloemer, who has spent the past six years as the Director for Strategic Projects at Foundation Coal Corporation/Alpha Natural Resources. This coal giant produces approximately 126 million tonnes of hard coal annually in its active mines that stretch across five US states.
OKD employees are at the top of their profession
Schloemer made clear his respect for the more than two centuries of mining history in Ostrava-Karviná and the high professional qualities of the local engineers. “The purpose of our presence here is not to show the local experts how to mine for coal. OKD engineers and miners are top-level mining professionals that deal with some of the most demanding geological conditions in the world. But any operation or industry can benefit from innovations, ideas and ways of thinking brought in from the outside that show how things could be done in a different way, altering the previous customary procedures applied within the company. This is the case whenever experience is transferred between operations, mining conditions or countries,” he said.
Everybody can draw on their previous experiences when trying to improve the efficiency and quality of their further work, noted Schloemer. With that in mind, he strived to impart his ideas and propose solutions to improve safety, mining efficiency and production levels and to cut mining costs in OKD. “Each new idea may not necessarily indicate a marked and radical change at first sight. However, small innovations and ideas may eventually combine to create an extensive impact on the results of operations as a whole,” he explained.
According to Schloemer, the team of international experts could help OKD to establish data and communication systems for underground work, design projects, plan and develop new mining sites, and improve the system for roof security. They could also contribute to the efficient operation of belt conveyors and the optimisation of development and longwall sets, he said. All development projects must be governed by the desire to improve safety, he believes.
OKD is a unique miner
Schloemer’s experience qualifies him to create comparisons to the geological conditions prevalent in the Ostrava-Karviná mining district. “The fact that coal can be safely and profitably extracted under such demanding conditions is truly impressive. Many companies around the world would like to produce coal in the same way that OKD does, but only OKD demonstrates a way of achieving it in all aspects. Although OKD‘s mines have undergone a transformative process in recent years, they are technologically highly advanced – the outcome of POP 2010 [Productivity Optimisation Programme 2010], as described to me by my Czech colleagues,” said Schloemer.
Even though the geological conditions in the district are highly specific, as Schloemer puts it, physical laws and mining principles apply just as anywhere else in the world. For example, the principles of mining in German coal mines are similar to those in Moravia-Silesia, though the more pronounced tectonic activity in OKD mines does of course lead to exceptions.
Given his familiarity with the world of mining, Schloemer can easily compare the work and mining approaches, as well as the complications caused by tectonic faults typical in OKD mines, to situations in US mines, where coal seams are found at depths ranging from 20 metres to one kilometre below the surface. “Numerous mines in the United States also contain tectonic faults, but I am not aware of any as extensive as those in the district where OKD operates. Nonetheless, the conditions in mines in the USA are highly diverse, reflecting the extent of mining and the expanse of the areas covered by hard coal mining districts. For example, the seams beneath the Appalachians in the east are found between 30 and 300 metres below the surface, while extensive deposits in the west are at a mere 20 metres below the surface, with seam depths ranging from 20 to 30 metres,” said Schloemer.
Czechs more sporty than Americans
And where the life of the locals is concerned, what was the greatest surprise for the US mining expert? The Czech fondness for sport: “I was surprised that many people of all ages pursue outdoor sport, from roller-blading and cycling to jogging or football tennis,” said Schloemer, adding that such numbers of people engaging in similar activities would be unusual in places where he had previously worked in the US. And what about language barrier issues, so often grumbled about by foreign managers working in the Czech Republic? “Not a major obstacle. There are plenty of people who speak English, with an interpreter helping out where necessary. What’s more, I have started to learn Czech. Although, it is difficult,” said Schloemer.