Coal miner OKD eyes large reserves in Beskids

Czech coal mining firm OKD announces plans to survey Beskids Mountains in northeast Moravia despite strong local opposition

Tom Jones 10.10.2011
Debate over lifting coal mining limits is heated | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Debate over lifting coal mining limits is heated | foto: ©NWRČeská pozice
Debate over lifting coal mining limits is heated

Some 14 days after the Czech government’s draft energy strategy concept, which proposes generating power and heat for the industrial Moravia–Silesia region with coal from the Beskids Mountains, was leaked to the press, the coal mining firm OKD applied for a license to conduct an extensive geological survey of the Beskids to better establish coal volumes.

“The timing is purely a coincidence,” OKD spokesman Vladislav Sobol told the news server aktualne.cz, adding that the firm had completed the documentation for the survey application prior to the appearance of the energy concept, but intended to make the announcement only after a meeting with mayors of the districts in the vicinity of the prospective mining zone.

OKD representatives met with the local mayors in late September but did not win their support for surveying the Beskids’ black coal reserves, which are reportedly the largest in central Europe. The mayors said they will oppose OKD’s plans as they fear the digging of survey shafts would inevitably lead to the launch of mining operations. “We see it as the initial stage of mining,” said the mayor of Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, Zdeňka Leščišinová.

“We hope they [OKD] won’t be successful [with the application],” commented Trojanovice mayor Jiří Novotný, who is also chairman of the Association of Towns and Districts for the Protection of the Beskids Region. Some 23,000 local residents have signed a petition organized by the association against the mining plans.   

Not before 2040

“In accordance with the updated state energy concept, mining in Frenštát would not begin before 2040, then we’ll see,” aktualne.cz cited the Minister of Trade and Industry, Martin Kocourek (Civic Democrats, ODS), as saying.

“In order for us to responsibly negotiate about the future of the mine, we need to know objective data, not 30-year-old estimates,” Klaus Dieter Beck, OKD’s CEO and board director, told the Czech new agency ČTK. “It’s our responsibility towards our shareholders who are financing the costly maintenance operation and also to the state, which owns the reserves.”

Plans to mine coal from the Beskids were drawn up under the communist regime in the 1980s and survey shafts were dug, but no coal was mined. The survey shafts have, however, been maintained. Plans to exploit the coal reserves were scrapped in the 1990s, and in 2004 an application by OKD to map the reserves was rejected.

OKD wants to dig 900 meter-deep survey shafts. The company must pay for an environmental impact assessment and then submit its application to survey to the Czech Mining Authority (ČBS).

Mayors won’t be ‘bribed’

OKD has announced that it has established a fund with Kč 25 million to help local communities in the Beskids. The Association of Towns and Districts for the Protection of the Beskids Region, however, says the fund is essentially an attempt to bribe the local administrations.

“Representatives of the towns and districts consider this move by OKD as an attempt to break the opposition of the local administrations against their plans to conduct survey digging and thus extend the lifespan Frenštát which should have been filled in and abolished 20 years ago,” the Association of Towns and Districts for the Protection of the Beskids Region said in a statement.

OKD, which belongs to the Prague-listed mining group New World Resources (NWR), controlled by Czech billionaire Zdeněk Bakala, announced a more than quadrupling of profits in 2010 to Kč 6.3 billion from 1.5 billion in 2009. In the Czech Republic, OKD mines at four main sites and investments are targeted at increasing production from reserves there or nearby.

Last year, OKD produced jut over 6 million tonnes of coking coal, or 52 percent of total production, and 5.5 million tonnes of thermal coal used by power plants.