Energy resources: Coal
Energy resources: Coal

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Energy resources: Coal

4.4 Coal in the European Union

The EU's coal reserves in 2004, after enlargement to 25 member states, stood at 100 × 109 t. Table 3 shows the eight European Union Member States with the most significant reserves ranked in order of greatest tonnage. With a little over 100 × 10 9 t of coal of all ranks, the EU possesses approximately 10.2% of total global coal reserves. Germany has by far the largest reserves (dominated by 'hard' brown coal and lignite), rivalled only by Poland for coals of higher rank. By contrast, the UK's reserves make a minor contribution to the European total.

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Of course, for a more complete picture, the coal resources (i.e. the amount currently (reserves) and potentially profitable to recover in the future, given reasonably foreseeable changes in economic and technical conditions — Sheldon, 2005) of these countries (Table 3) should also be considered. The resource figures (calculated four years before those of the reserves) should be treated with some caution as countries often adopt different criteria (in terms of seam thickness and depth) when calculating them. However, a comparison of the last two columns in Table 3 shows that there are huge quantities of coal currently considered uneconomic to mine. This is especially true in the UK, an issue that will be considered in more detail later on.

Table 3 also shows that many EU countries produce low-rank brown coal in large quantities. Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary have greater reserves of brown coal than higher rank coals. Much of this coal formed during Tertiary times, about 20 Ma ago. Tertiary lignites in the UK are limited to small areas around Bovey Tracey in Devon and Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.

Figure 34 illustrates the production of coal in Europe since 1981 for those countries listed in Table 3. With the exception of Greece, production has declined, especially among the major producers. This trend reflects the ending of generous EU-supported government subsidies, which had allowed otherwise lossmaking mines to remain in operation. As European coal is around three times as expensive as imported coal, it cannot compete in the global market without such subsidies. By switching to fuels other than coal, the European domestic market is unlikely to come to the aid of its ailing coal industry.

Figure 34
Figure 34 Coal production in Europe during the period 1981 to 2002. (The miners' strike accounted for the drop in UK production in 1984.)

Even so, in 2004, the EU produced approximately 593 × 106 t of coal. By contrast, it consumed 749 × 106 t yr−1, making it a net importer of coal. Some countries (e.g. France and Spain) rely more heavily on imports than others.


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