When the German coal industry officially ends in December 2018, this will be a special date not only for the directly affected employees of RAG and the regions where mining has been around in recent years, but also for a large number of service providers and suppliers.
THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU was not only active for the predecessor companies from which RAG emerged, but also for RAG from the very beginning. In the 50 years since its foundation, a close partnership has developed between the two companies. In addition to hundreds of kilometres of road excavated by THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU in RAG's mines, numerous open surface shafts, blind shafts and bunkers have been sunk and countless exploration wells drilled above and below ground. A large number of projects remain particularly memorable such as the roadway excavation with a full-cutting machine at the mine Lohberg, the sinking of the Primsmulde shaft with a shaft boring machine as the deepest drilling shaft in the world, the deepening of the northern shaft in Saarland to 1,700 m, the connection of the 7th floor to Auguste Victoria Shaft 8 with its large shaft bell and the deepening of Prosper Shaft 10, to name just a few. The very demanding projects often involved breaking new ground and pushing the limits of what was technically feasible. We succeeded in doing this not least because the client and contractor pursued the same goal and could rely on each other - "mining virtues".
The coal compromise of 1997 and the Hard Coal Financing Act of 2007 gave RAG a clear political mandate to phase out hard coal mining in Germany by the end of 2018. Together with the workforce, the trade union and politicians, RAG succeeded in solving this mammoth task in a socially acceptable manner. Considering that ten years ago RAG produced approx. 17 million tonnes of lignite per year from eight mines with around 30,000 employees, this is a great achievement and will certainly also be the yardstick for the politically desired withdrawal from lignite mining. But also service providers and suppliers had to adapt to this change. Understandably, with the reduction of mines and production, the demand for special mining work such as that offered by THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU also declined. Since the demand of other domestic mining operators for corresponding services also declined at that time, this was a trigger for THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU to become even more involved abroad in order to continue to place the business on an economically viable basis.
The decline in RAG's workforce negotiated with politicians with the aim of discontinuing production by 2018 meant that the company did not always have sufficient personnel of its own to cope with the work still to be carried out in the mines that were still active or in the context of the decommissioning and closure of sites. This gap could and still can be closed by service providers, among others. For example, THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU had already been commissioned in 2000 to backfill shafts 1, 2, 6 and 7 at the Westfalen mine. However, RAG can also rely on the support of specialist mining service providers in the recent past. For example, shafts 8 and 9 of Auguste Victoria colliery were already filled with THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU in 2016, shafts 3 and 7 will follow in 2019.
The concept of mine water drainage pursued by RAG provides the possibility for the Ruhr area to pump the underground mine water to the surface in a controlled manner even after the end of hard coal mining in order to rule out mixing with groundwater. For this purpose, it is planned to allow the mine water to rise to a depth of approx. 600 m in the long term and then to pump it to the surface at 6 sites and 7 "reserve sites". If the mine water is still pumped to the surface by underground pumps, the conversion to so-called well water retention is to take place by 2021. The pumps will then be installed above ground in the shafts at the 13 selected locations and pump the water from a depth of 600 m to the surface as submersible pumps. This has the advantage that it is no longer necessary to maintain extensive mine workings only for the purpose of pumping water. The prerequisite for this, however, is that the sites in question are prepared and converted for this purpose. Thus, in addition to the extraction, essential shaft installations must also be drawn off and the abutment for the backfill must be erected in the corresponding target horizon. Finally, the cladding pipes into which the submersible pumps will later be drained must be installed during backfilling. These conversion measures require planning, personnel and mechanical effort, which can no longer be completely provided by RAG, so that there is close cooperation between RAG and service providers such as THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU in order to meet the demanding schedule. These include the Auguste Victoria 3/7, Zollverein Shaft 12 or Haus Aden Shaft 2 sites, where THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU is already supporting RAG. Particularly worth mentioning in this context is the 1,800 m long excavation of the so-called mine water canal between Prosper-Haniel colliery and the former Möller-Rheinbaben colliery. The drivage, which began in autumn 2015 and was completed in mid-2018, has the sole task of transporting the mine water from Möller-Rheinbaben through Prosper and Hünxe to Lohberg, where it is pumped to the surface. The mine water channel thus represents the last roadway in the German hard coal mining industry and was no longer used for the development and installation but for future mine water management.
In 2017, RAG took the first step towards awarding a contract for the management of an entire site and the preparation for the conversion to well water drainage, an absolute novelty in German mining. In Saarland, the remaining part of the former Ensdorf mine will be operated by a joint venture of THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU and STEAG Technischer Service. This enables RAG to carry out the necessary personnel adjustments while at the same time guaranteeing all the work required at the Duhamel site and the north shaft. The consortium not only manages the above-ground area but also the mine workings including the Duhamel shaft, the Barbarastollen tunnel and the underground mine water drainage system. The extremely successful 1.5 years have shown that this is a practicable way to carry out all necessary personnel and structural adjustments on the part of RAG on the one hand, but at the same time to be able to fulfil the responsibility for dismantling and conversion of a former mine.
Over the past 50 years, RAG, as one of the largest employers in the Ruhr, Saar and Ibbenbüren districts, has always assumed outstanding responsibility for the economic development of these regions. Through much diligence and prudence it has been possible to successfully manage the adjustment process in the German hard coal mining industry, which has been regretted by many people and sometimes painful, from the 1970s to the present day. Whereas in 1970 more than 250,000 employees were still employed in more than 50 companies in all areas of Germany and extracted more than 110 million tons of hard coal, in the next few years only a few hundred employees will be employed in the Ruhr, Saar and Ibbenbüren to dismantle the existing sites, to store them permanently and to prepare them for mine water management.
We are grateful that we have been able to accompany RAG over the past 50 years and wish them all the best and success in their future endeavours.
Dr. Axel Weissenborn
THYSSEN SCHACHTBAU GMBH