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German Hard-Coal Production to Cease by 2018

About a half-mile under the Earth’s surface here, dozens of soot-faced miners scrape coal from some of the richest seams in the world, just as their forebears had done for generations. Conveyor belts funnel the shiny black rock through crushing machines and up to the surface, where it helps to power the globe’s third-biggest economy.


Germany’s 500-year-old tradition of hard-coal mining, however, is dying out. With domestic coal long unprofitable because of cheap imports from Africa and Asia, the German government this year decided to gradually withdraw expensive subsidies that have kept its mines open for nearly a half-century.
All but one of Germany’s hard-coal mines are located in the Ruhr, a rust-belt region along the country’s western border. Coal production soared in the Ruhr during the 19th century and propelled Germany through the Industrial Revolution. It fueled the nation’s steel mills and armaments factories during both world wars. After the defeat of the Nazis, coal rebuilt the tattered country, underpinning the Wirtschaftswunder, the postwar economic boom in the former West Germany.


Since then, German hard coal has lost its competitive edge. Thanks to relatively well-paid miners and supplies that are hard to reach because they are so deep underground, German coal today costs 2 1/2 times as much to produce per ton as imports from Australia or South Africa.


For decades, German lawmakers have propped up the industry, unwilling to risk massive layoffs and reluctant to eliminate a reliable energy source as gas and oil supplies become scarcer.


But after spending more than $200 billion in subsidies since the 1960s, the federal government this year decided that the practice had become unaffordable. The 2018 sunset for the hard-coal industry was set.

The end of the subsidies won’t affect Germany’s mining of lignite, or brown coal. That industry, which is concentrated in the eastern half of the country, remains profitable and relies on surface mining techniques.


The deal to shut down the hard-coal industry is predicated on a pledge by lawmakers and Deutsche Steinkohle to avoid layoffs. Under present rules, miners are eligible to retire with full pension benefits at age 49 if they’ve logged 25 years underground. Those with less experience are guaranteed placement in jobs in other sectors or extensive retraining.

Washington Post



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