Mines Close, Miners Don’t

March 25, 2014


According to a recent article in the New York Times, the practice of digging coal illegally, also known as "rathole mining" is once again proliferating. The last time this was seen was in Poland during the late 1990's when the state decided to abruptly shut down coal plants in the region.


However, as with gold in South Africa miners who have connections to unload the precious metals and mining ore continue to dig in abandoned and closed mines to make their money. Rathole mining is common in parts of Africa and India, and it is once again seeing an increase in places like Poland and Lower Silesia.


Though lucrative for miners who don't get caught, the practice is extremely dangerous and not more than a few weeks ago, five miners were killed in South Africa when an abandoned mine collapsed.


But in Poland, where brown and black coal is abundant, miners flock to pits near Upper Silesia to the north and Belchatow in the east. The mines shuttered in the 1990's were considered unprofitable, as well as dangerous, and after a century of constant mining many of the pits were considered tapped out.


Recent estimates claim that as many as 3,000 men are engaged in illegal mining in Poland, though officials in the country say the number is not that high. Miners working illegally often sell their haul ay 30-40% cheaper than legal mines meaning there is always demand for their product. Also pushing the activity is the fact that in Poland, 88% of its electricity is powered by coal and many still use it to heat their homes.


Miners who are caught mining illegally are often fined but the fine can equal a week's pay and miners that can't afford the fine often end up in jail. It is a risky chance but for many miners it is the only one left.


As the Mayor of Walbrzych told a reporter from the New York Times, "It is a problem, we know it exists. We try to solve it but its part of the image we would like to change".