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2020 / 2021 Edition

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The European Conference On Raw Building Materials And Coal: New Perspectives

Review of a two-day conference hosted by Sarajevo University on minerals planning, mining and quarrying in the growth sector of Eastern Europe

By Chris Norman, West Lothian Council

Sadly, to many people the words ‘Bosnia’ and ‘Sarajevo’ remain synonymous with appalling TV images from the early 1990s, as the former Yugoslavia broke up and gave rise to bitter warfare.

Today, however, the former Yugoslav republics are going through a period of reconstruction and transition. Together with Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic, Slovenia is now among 10 Eastern European members of the European Union and Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are looking to the next round of accession; all have important mineral industries and huge mineral reserves, but many environmental problems associated with past extraction.

In May 2004 Sarajevo University hosted a two-day European conference on ‘Raw Building Materials and Coal’, which was attended by over 200 delegates, mainly from the emerging Balkan states and the new Eastern European members of the EU.

Bosnia-Herzegovina suffered enormous devastation during the war of the early 1990’s and half of the residential properties in Sarajevo were destroyed. Today, renewal of the built environment and infrastructure is not happening at the desired pace, and while some roads, public buildings and other parts of the infrastructure have been rebuilt, there is an enormous demand for aggregates to help renew the country’s housing stock and public works. Against this background, many unregulated mineral workings are now posing a threat to the environment.

Like its Eastern European neighbours, Bosnia-Herzegovina is very keen to foster co-operation with Western European companies, regulatory authorities and mining and environmental expertise. In common with its neighbours, the rapid political and economic changes that have taken place during the past 10 years, together with restructuring into a market economy and predicted increases in demand for minerals, are, in turn, demanding a new spirit of co-operation with Western Europe.

To this end, the May 2004 Conference was established to foster co-operation and provide technical assistance on minerals planning and mining technology throughout the former Yugoslavia and the Eastern bloc generally.

During day one of the conference some 35 papers were presented, with UK submissions comprising a paper by Lester Hicks of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on minerals planning in the UK and the aggregates levy, and the author’s own paper entitled ‘The regulation, monitoring and enforcement of minerals extraction in Scotland’. Almost all the other speakers were from Eastern Europe, the former Yugoslavia and Russia.

The conference proceedings represent, for the first time, a state-of-the-art collation of up-to-date papers on minerals planning, mining and quarrying in the growth sector of Eastern Europe and make fascinating reading from an economic, geographical, environmental, political and business perspective.

This article provides a very brief summary of the principal papers presented at the plenary session on day one. Day two saw a further 135 papers presented in five thematic sessions; details of all the papers will shortly be published on the conference web site: After an opening address from a member of the British Embassy in Sarajevo, a representative from the Office of the High Representative (OHR) gave a brief summary of Bosnia’s mineral wealth. Bauxite, copper, lead, iron and zinc are currently mined and mineral reserves include an estimated 9 billion tonnes of coal. Limestone is the most abundant commercial resource in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is exported throughout central Europe, while dimension stone from Bosnia-Herzegovina is sold to markets in Vienna and Budapest.

Unfortunately, corruption, lack of proper regulation and past practices have lead to many scars on the Bosnian countryside and illegal stone extraction is a major problem for the authorities; out of 149 quarries in the Republic, only 55 are properly permitted. The OHR is looking to update mining law with effective licensing, enforcement and legal control of mining to proper environmental standards with the overall objec-tive of regulating the aggregates market to modern standards. The OHR wishes to encourage properly permitted companies to carry out extraction and processing, and wider marketing for the many important resources of the Republic is to be sought.

Construction minerals

Basic rocks of the gabbro-basalt group, described at the conference as being ‘practically unlimited’, offer a range of opportunities for new quarry development, both for the burgeoning domestic market and for export. The striking white limestone deposits forming the Dinaric Alps are equally important for the dimension stone market and again international co-operation is being sought to develop their market potential against a background of sustainable development and new regulatory controls.

The conference’s attention was drawn to an example of a recent consent in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a major limestone quarry in partnership with the German firm HeidelbergCement AG. Here, state-of-the-art computer graphics were used in the quarry design to allow the scheme to be planned and developed as efficiently as possible, thereby minimizing environmental damage.

Another recent example of new quarry development in Bosnia is a dolomite quarry operated by the company House Milos at Rakovica, 20km from Sarajevo. Opened in 1998, the quarry has been subject to rapid growth and is the Bosnian market leader for concrete production. Helped by a ‘USAID’ business-development grant, the operating company gained much assistance in their venture, including the development of suitable access to the site. Community benefit was a key factor in the early success of the scheme; rather than protesting at the prospects of a new quarry, the local population enjoy some of the benefits that House Milos brought to the locality, including improvements to local roads, snow clearance, work on the school in Rakovica, street lighting and the provision of an ambulance and water supply. When the Bosnian war ended in 1995, aggregates for the rebuilding of Sarajevo were priced at around £11.20 per cubic metre, but with the opening of the quarry at Rakovica much needed materials for reconstruction were priced at around £5.60 per cubic metre. Planning permission for the quarry allows 20 years of extraction and the site is the first in the Sarajevo administrative area to have all the necessary concessions in place. With a daily output of about 4,000m3, the quarry will feed the company’s in-house concrete plant, which in turn will produce up to 2,500m3 of concrete a month.

House Milos are also hoping to use dust from the quarry to improve Bosnia’s acid soils for enhanced agricultural production. Environmental awareness is a key component of the post-war Bosnian minerals industry, and the company see the re-cultivation of acid soils as a means of ‘repaying nature’. Noise and dust controls are also an integral part of the requirements of the quarry and House Milos are currently seeking ISO 14001 accreditation. They have also planted some 14,000 trees.

Energy minerals

The energy industry in Bosnia-Herzegovina is undergoing significant restructuring and privatization. The country possesses very large deposits of lignite and brown coal, and fossil fuel-derived energy is likely to be a considerable player in the new market place for the foreseeable future. However, over 50% of the country’s generating capacity and 60% of its transmission system was destroyed during the war and many of the existing coal-fired power stations require modernization or replacement. Restructuring of the coal mining industry is also taking place, with a reduction in the workforce from 14,600 to 3,500 anticipated in the next five years.

Several speakers at the conference spoke of the opportunities for the coal industry in other parts of the Balkans and Eastern European countries. For example, a very large deposit of high-quality lignite in Kosovo could be worked by opencast methods to produce up to 16 million tonnes a year. With calorific values of 7,200/kg, humidity at 45%, ash levels between 12–18% and sulphur less than 1%, new opencast mines, needed after 2008, could be a major stimulant for the Kosovan economy, allowing up to 4,000MW of electricity generating capacity to be developed. Kosovo currently produces some 7 million tonnes of opencast coal each year.

In Serbia the restructuring of the energy industry is, in common with many of the former Eastern-bloc countries, having a knock-on effect on coal mining. The Republic currently has seven opencast and eight deep mines, employing 25,000 people and producing around 25 million tonnes a year of energy minerals. With output forecast to grow to 36 million tonnes a year by 2010, Serbia will be a net exporter of electricity in the South Eastern European Regional Electricity Market, which is to be created in 2006.

At Velenje in Slovenia around 4 million tonnes of coal are mined each year to supply a district heating system and a nearby power plant that produces 50% of the country’s electricity.

Poland produces 20 million tonnes of coal annually, much of which is exported to Western Europe. The country’s recent accession to the EU offers further opportunities.

The Upper Silesian coalfield of the Czech Republic has seen coal extracted since the 18th century, with some 25 million tonnes a year being produced at its peak in the 1970s. The environmental consequences of coal extraction are vast, with the production of some 0.65 billion tonnes of waste rock and 2,000 million litres of pumped mine water. Around 20,815 million cubic metres of methane were emitted in the 20 years from 1965 to 1985. In Upper Silesia 300km of surface watercourses have been degraded as a result of mining activities. The landscape of the area is dominated by mineral waste tips, many of which are burning, thereby emitting carbon, sulphur, tar and nitrogen. In addition, groundwater contamination from leacheate presents another severe environmental hazard.

Major programmes for remediation are being addressed with coal-bed methane reserves estimated at between 70 to 300 billion cubic meters. The reuse of waste tips as sources of secondary aggregate is being established, much of which will be needed to address the severe problems caused by subsidence from earlier deep mining. Research is also being undertaken into the use of underground mines for the disposal of ‘neutralized’ waste, including fly ash and metallurgical materials. Thermal energy from pumped mine water, which has a temperature of between 26–28°, may also be capable of beneficial use. Finally, ambitious plans are underway to create a series of ‘biotopes’ from the degraded landscapes, regrading waste tips into the depressions caused by subsidence and creating areas of nature conservation interest.

Dimension stone

The combination of post-war reconstruction and public works programmes on the built heritage of Bosnia–Herzegovina, and Eastern Europe and Russia generally, has in turn generated a huge demand for quality dimension stone.

Some 25km south of Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina, the ancient conservation town of Pocitelj was completely destroyed during the war. In line with UNESCO guidance, the use of skilled craft techniques and new stone quarried from original sources is leading to the renovation of this cultural gem. Similar restoration projects have been carried out on the old bridge in Mostar and other outstanding historic monuments in Sarajevo dating from the era of Austro-Hungarian rule. Dimension stone quarried in the Republic has qualities that make its export, as a value-added product, throughout Eastern Europe and beyond an area of significant growth potential.

Environmental effects and sustainability

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s recently published National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) contains the Republic’s response to ensuring proper environmental considerations are taken into account in decision-making. As a legacy of former Yugoslavian economic policies, the scars of heavy industry and, in particular, coal mining remain deep in parts of the Republic.

For example, around Tuzla there are some 200,000,000m3 of waste, 96% of which comprises mining waste and power station ash. The state Government is anxious to ensure future decision-making adopts a sustainable approach to economic develop-ment to avoid the major problems witnessed around the country, and priority actions have been set out. These include air-quality standards, water resource management and soil management. The Government is thus looking to engage the state sector, industry, universities and scientific research with a view to Western European standards becoming integral to the macro-planning of the state.

Conference speakers from Slovenia reinforced the need for sustainable aggregate resource management in the policy-making of the emerging economies. Eastern European countries must seek to establish stable planning permission regimes, the consistent application of rules and regulations, realistic markets, public accountability and property rights. Policy development that addresses sustainable aggregate resource management is likely to be a key approach to minerals planning in Eastern Europe in the coming years.

The conference was regarded as a huge success by both the organizers and the delegates and another similar event is probable, where, hopefully, there will be greater representation from the UK and other Western European countries. There is considerable scope for East–West co-operation in the field of mineral extraction and minerals planning generally. Interestingly, relatively little weight was attached to secondary aggregates and renewable-energy initiatives.

It is apparent that huge reserves of much-needed minerals exist in the former Yugoslavia and indeed throughout Eastern Europe. These mineral deposits may well assist as key enterprises in the growth of national economies. As these economies develop, the demand for such resources will inevitably increase. Co-operation and partnership with Western Europe is necessary to help realize economic growth in the new democracies, while at the same time ensuring that the scars of less-regulated earlier development and the quality of the environment are properly addressed.

For further information about the conference or its proceedings, contact the author at: [email protected]

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