HOW ARE MINES?
Opublikowano: piątek, 14, październik 2016 11:41
The time horizon of the navigable rivers project (and the demand for hydro-technical stone) is quite distant, but we can already see some signs of recovery. Prices seem to get stable on a low level and it is difficult to find incentives which could improve the demand for local stone in a short time – except for the programme of improving railway infrastructure.
Together with the reduced number of infrastructural investments we can also observe a decrease in extraction and slow employment of means from the current EU budget. They are all serious threats to the condition of some broken stone and aggregate mines. One more threat appeared in late June: Brexit. Although Great Britain is not going to leave the EU at once, this situation may influence the EU financial envelope. In short, we can say that the dynamics of the demand for rock mining products has slowed down, so it is difficult to expect a significant price increase. Situation like this may be beneficial for companies which are able to combine rising costs, which result from, among others, worse geological and mining conditions of deposits, some of which have been exploited for a long time, with ensuring the most important thing, that is exploitation which is safe for people and environment together with applying optimum technical and technological solutions for a given deposit.
The above mentioned information and recommendations are frequently found in comments made by representatives of the branch and companies related to rock mining. In total, there are about 25,000 people working in rock mining. This branch generates a positive multiplier effect because providing demand for raw minerals contributes to development of other branches of industry, employment growth, development of infrastructure, etc. In Strzegom commune, for example, there are several active quarries and companies that deal with extracting and processing stone. They employ more than 4,000 people, which is a quarter of all town residents and 1/7 of all commune residents. In the town and the commune there are also many additional jobs and companies related to stone processing. It is also important to notice that heavy transport is the second (after stone processing) most popular business in Strzegom commune.
The information mentioned above is usually “covered” by some other media events and, consequently, goes unnoticed. Rock mining is much more often in media (especially social media) in context of NIMBY syndrome (“not in my backyard”), which means that we support a given project but we do not want to see it in our neighbourhood. I am mentioning it because EU reports say that an average EU citizen is now using about 16 tonnes of various materials per year. More than a half are rock raw materials or materials made of those raw materials. A lot, right? The importance of rock raw materials has been noticed recently. However, according to most experts, the deposits of raw rock materials are relatively large and occur not so deep, but their exploitation is getting smaller and smaller due to serious ecological, urban and social conditions.
The forecasts made by foreign experts tell us one more thing. The currently expected level of raw rock materials consumption in developed European countries should reach about 10 tonnes per inhabitant (including 7 tonnes of natural aggregates). The forecasts include, of course, desired civilisation needs. In Poland this level is much lower in spite of the fact that in the development of infrastructural building industry (common goods such as roads, navigable rivers, etc.) we are still lagging significantly behind. It seems to show a desired increase of demand for rock raw materials in Poland. Let us see how it really is.
Before the latest data of the Polish Geological Institute are published, let us remind that since the record high 2011, each year has shown decreases. It is true that extraction of crushed and block stones in 2015 reached 64.18 mln tonnes, but it was just slightly more than in the previous year (+ 0.15%). The total extraction in 2014 was 274 mln t. It is still nothing if we compare it to the record high (in terms of extraction) 2011 when the extraction reached about 100 mln t more.
Some factor groups decide about prospects of raw rock materials production. When there is a deficit of national high quality deposits, they are traded abroad (e.g. colourful granites). But not only then. Lower Silesian branch still remembers the bizarre situation when the specification said that Strzegom granite had to be used to renovate the flooring of the Social Activity Centre “Karmel”. The bidding procedure was not settled and the contracting entity – the town – was punished for unacceptable description of the subject matter of the contract. The mayor appealed to the court of appeal (the case is pending) and, in the meantime, they used … grey granite, but Chinese one, because it is cheaper (sic!).
One of the main factors which hampers the development of rock mining in Poland – except for price competition with imported granites – are problems with developing new deposits or resources which are being exploited. Most experts share the same opinion here. Restrictions related to environmental protection reduce the number of areas suitable for free mining development. More than 42% of the country's area is covered with various forms of protection (eg. Natura 2000 areas). Although some say that ecological considerations do not exclude geological and mining activities, they surely make this process very difficult. Proof? In Poland you must invest money and a lot of time (around 31-34 months) in order to apply for the extraction license (in: Surowce dla przemysłu. Plan działań na rzecz zabezpieczenia podaży nieenergetycznych surowców mineralnych", Ministerstwo Rozwoju, 3 sierpnia 2016 r.) (draft of the document entitled "Raw materials for industry. Action plan for securing supply of non-energetic raw minerals” Ministry of Development, 3 August 2016).
Geological and mining law says that a starost (county head) is a body that issues licenses for deposits where open-pit mining is planned. The deposits cannot be in the possession of mines and cannot be bigger than 2 hectares. In other cases licenses for extracting minerals from deposits are issued by provincial governors. After the period when the number of “starost” licenses went up (due to the aggregate demand boom in 2009-2011 linked with building motorways and express roads), now it is falling. However, we can observe a kind of recovery in “marshal” licenses. Example? Preceding year's statistics for Silesian Province show that 80 licenses for extracting minerals were issued by the marshal. Dolomites and limestones are mined there by means of explosive materials (long wall systems) and Godulskie sandstones by means of perforators – first holes are drilled and then a block is separated from the undisturbed soil by means of wedges.
Opole region is the richest in natural aggregate and natural limestone and is one of the most significant limestone industry centres in Poland (there are more than 100 active mining plants there). The share of limestone extraction in Opole Province represents more than 20% of national extraction (2nd position in Poland after Świętokrzyskie Province). It will be even better because this region has just received another license for exploiting a new, large deposit: Tarnów Opolski – Wschód (extraction by blasting method with two and later three million tonnes of limestone per year is supposed to start in second quarter of 2017).
The example above seems important because there are only 4% of large mines (which employ over 20 people) in Poland but they are responsible for 60% of national extraction. Among medium and large mining plants there are both companies with foreign capital (like world famous producers of cement, lime or concrete) as well as Polish companies and employee companies.
Raw rock raw materials represent ca. 65% of solid minerals extraction. Gravel-sand aggregate and crushed aggregate (made of basalts, granites, dolomites, limestones and many other solid rocks) represent ¾ of raw rock materials extraction. If this is so, can modern mining technology face actions which compensate for damages to environment? Starting exploitation of minerals is subject to environmental conditions and local community must express its opinion first. People do not want to have in their neighbourhood a mining plant which uses blasting method.
- Remarks about limited possibilities of free mining-related management of environment are well-aimed observations – says Aleksander Kabziński, president of Polish Association of Aggregate Producers.
- Mining technology of today and tomorrow must ensure full protection. Leading mining entrepreneurs may undertake these actions by themselves, but in a situation of fragmentation of the industry, specialised companies will do it more effective, better and cheaper. I can confirm constant development of mining industry in terms of drilling and blasting works. Competition contributes to the development in this area. Safety in this type of activity is also higher. My forecast from the past came true.
Blasting is the basic method of mining deposits for aggregate. In most cases external companies deal with it. And I must admit they say they are very successful.
- For about 3 years more and more mines have been doing blasting with electric igniters – they guarantee both high standard of work coordination and perfect results (especially when we mean reduced propagation of vibrations on a mining plant surrounding) – says Ryszard Dusza, director of Kielce-Bełchatów branch of Orica company which is a global supplier of explosive materials and initiation systems for extraction industry.
- This is important because controlled millisecond long delays in connection with installation of vibration monitoring station should be an argument in the discussion with opponents of exploiting deposits near residential buildings.
The demand for external companies' services for open-pit mines is a great stone business climate indicator. So? The market leaders say that first half of 2016 was worse compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.
- Today's market of machines, I'm afraid, reflects aggregate market – says Bartek Ruda from BH RUDA company which specialises in construction and mining machines.
- We hoped that in 2015 something will change in the market. It resulted in a large number of orders which were gradually delivered at the turn of 2015/2016. The year 2016 looks like a paper chase and arms race. Everybody, if they can afford it, is investing in machines. If they cannot afford it, they are repairing old machines to be ready for the season which in our branch is now, unfortunately, about six months late due to long bidding procedures. Everybody, however, is optimistic. They are sure it must finally work! However, lengthy bidding procedures and bigger supply than demand make aggregate branch entrepreneurs fight with each other by means of price. This, unfortunately, affects decisions when buying machines.
Much more optimistic signals are coming from block stone experts. It is good because four years ago we could hear in Strzegom stone centre about destructive competition between manufacturers of kerbs which were produced at cost. In spite of that those kerbs often lost in bidding procedures with imported products of potentially dubious quality. What signals are coming from Strzegom today?
- The new EU budget has increased the demand for kerbs – informs Kamil Lemański, owner of Strzegom-based Granite Von Striegau mine.
- Right now the price is on the same level as last year. Customers paid 65-70 PLN (ca. 16-18 euros) / running metre for 20 x 30 cm size material. Nobody will buy it for a higher price! It is interesting that there is a growing interest in hydro-technical stone. That is why we are finalising talks to produce this kind of stone. In the meantime we are supplying stone to build retaining walls for Czarny Bór ring road.
This is an investment in Wałbrzych county. Kopalnia Melafiru (melahpyre mine) in Czarny Bór is greatly involved in this project.
It is not true that natural stone is no more the basic construction material and is only an important decorative material in modern architecture. Modern processing of granite allows for making practically every element which may be later used in infrastructural building.
- Granite from Żbik deposit has a significant position on stone market due to its structure and colour – says Grzegorz Chęciński, production director from GRANIT STRZEGOM S.A mine which exploits blocks and granite solids obtained from their own four granite deposits (Żbik, Żbik 18, Żółkiewka I, Żółkiewka III).
- The goods are very popular because of very high quality of processing, meticulous production that complies with PN-EN standards, repeatability (whole series of orders are made of granite that comes from one deposit) and professional customer care.
Repeatability is essential when a product is to be used on elevations of huge buildings. The situation of uncertain bids is favourable for those who can use whole mining for their own needs.
- In our company blocks are exclusive to owners of mines – all of them have their processing plants. The demand from them is still insatiable – says Jolanta Konieczna from KWARC company which deals with extracting and processing granites from Borów I deposit.
- Cube is not being sold well this year. So is, consequently, grey-red rough cube. Unfortunately, this situation refers to the national market and German market which was an alternative for us. It was usually so that when it was worse in Poland, it was better in Germany. When there were problems in Germany, there was boom in Poland. The demand for rough cubes for hydro-technical constructions has also decreased. We can hear from drainage companies that there are no bidding procedures now. It is bad for our branch that there are a few intermediaries in the market which undercut prices during bidding procedures and force producers to offer such prices.
The latest statistics from the Public Procurement Agency confirm this. In the first half of the year the value of contracts was about 8.5 billion zlotys (ca. 2.1 billion euros) whilst in the corresponding period of the last year Public Procurement Bulletin spoke about 11.1 billion zlotys (more than 2.7 billion euros). According to the Central Statistical Office, after six months building and assembly production is as much as 12% lower than last year.
Most of the interviewed people confirmed that this year might be a little worse. Both private investors and local governments want to pay as little as possible and with long deadline, which is not good for profitability of mines. How is it going to be in the second half? Everybody is expecting that money from the EU will be available and hoping that the true season will start then.