The German hard coal industry
Hard coal mining in Germany has a long history and has played a major role in the industrial development of the country, providing the raw material for the steel industry and a source of cheap power. From its peak in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the industry employed over half a million people and produced around 150 million tonnes, mining has been in continuous decline in Germany with just 14 Mt produced in 2010 from six mines. There are two main coal-mining regions, in the Ruhr and Saarland, producing both thermal and coking coal from deep underground mines at an average depth of 920m. All mines are operated around longwall mining methods, using both shearers and ploughs.
Geological conditions and increasingly deeper pits have made German coal expensive and difficult to mine leading to production costs that have for decades been higher than the market price. The industry has therefore been heavily subsidised by the German government. The government has also restructured the industry with all mines amalgamated into Deutsche Steinkohle AG (DSK) at the beginning of 1999, DSK being a wholly owned subsidiary of the RAG group.
Under pressure from European competition regulations, the government and RAG came to an agreement in 2007 that subsidised coal mining in Germany would be phased out ‘in a socially responsible way’ by the end of 2018. The planned winding down process requires the industry to reduce its annual output to 12 million tonnes and downsize its workforce to fewer than 15,000 employees by the year 2012. As from 2013 national coal production will be concentrated on just three active mines in North Rhine-Westphalia: Prosper-Haniel in Bottrop, Auguste Victoria in Marl and Ibbenbueren on the border with Lower Saxony.
The fact that Germany still has a vibrant steel manufacturing industry and currently produces about 18% of its electricity from hard coal means it is now dependent on imports. In 2009 the country imported 6.4 Mt of coking coal and 32 Mt of thermal coal.