Polish coal mine expansion to be raised in prime ministerial talks

Grube Turów (Foto: Anna Uciechowska, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Czech worries about development plans for a massive coal mine on the Polish side of the frontier in the far north of the country are scheduled to be one of the top subjects for discussion when Czech and Polish prime ministers meet for talks on Monday. Czechs are looking for assurance over concerns that water sources on the Czech side of the frontier will be polluted.

Turow lignite mine, photo: Anna Uciechowska, CC BY-SA 3.0
The Polish plans to develop the massive brown coal or lignite mine at Turow has already been the topic for bilateral talks between Czech and Polish environment ministers. Plans to expand the mine, which already covers 45 square kilometres to 55 square kilometres and deepened to around 75 metres to release hundreds of millions of tons of coal, was already high on the agenda when environment ministers met in mid-February.

Now it has edged up the agenda and should be one of the talking points between Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo.

The Polish plans are for the coal reserves to be exploited over the next 25 years and furnish a massive power plant which is scheduled to keep on running until 2045. But Czechs on the other side of the border, especially around the Frýdlant area, near where the Polish, Czech, and German borders meet, are concerned about the consequences. Liberec regional governor Martin Půta spoke to Czech Radio:

“Concern among people around Frýdlant is really high, I understand that. People who rely solely on drinking water from their own wells are worried that they could lose this.”

The regional governor says that Polish authorities have not so far delivered many of the promised documents about the impact of the planned coal mine expansion including some of the extra geological studies that Czechs are pressing for. A full environmental impact assessment of the plans is expected by the middle of next year. But Půta is optimistic that the high profile the issue has now won will help things along.

Martin Půta, photo: archive of Liberec region
“I would like the thank the minister of environment and the prime minister that this issue has been tabled for the bilateral inter-governmental talks between premiers. In the past this was not the case and it’s the first time that this problem which affects the Liberec border region is number two or three on the agenda for talks between the Czech and Polish prime ministers. I really hope that this will contribute towards finding a solution.”

Germany is also concerned about the coal mine expansion plans, another factor stacking up the pressure on Warsaw.

But the Poles are not the only ones with coal mining issues. The Czech Republic, in particular one of its biggest power companies, Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH) is under very close scrutiny in Germany. EPH bought out the main brown coal assets of Sweden’s Vattenfall earlier this year, many of them focused on the Lausatia region. And whereas state controlled Vattenfall might have phased out some mining, EPH shows every sign of exploiting the reserves to the full. And it was EPH’s intentions that were one of the subjects raised by the Brandenburg regional economy and energy, Albrecht Gerber, and Czech minister of industry, Jan Mládek, last week. The Czech minister said that the German region is actually taking a different stand on the country's energy change and is supporting the longer term continuation of coal mining.