All we know about coal mines and why it’s not enough

How much water does mining in Europe consume? How many dangerous emissions are coal mines responsible for? We did not know… until now. There is a lack of accessible and comparable information about coal mines in Europe. To fill in this gap, we introduce the EU Mine Data Viewer. This new platform provides data on size, water usage, carbon emissions and much more. Despite the room for improvement, the EU does not seem to want better rules for information, leaving this database and citizens’ knowledge incomplete.  

Keeping tabs on the impacts of mining is vital in our battle against the climate crisis. Accurate and complete data allows effective policy-making and empowers communities to advocate for their rights. However, there is no comprehensive data reporting which shows the multidimensional impact of mines on the environment. How to fill this gap and provide a reliable source of information on Europe’s coal mines? 

The EU Mine Data Viewer is the much-needed solution for accessing and comparing reliable data on coal mines across Europe (including Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo). Similarly to the Industrial Plant Data Viewer, this database of Europe’s coal mines provides accurate information about location and size, coal production, operator and parent company details, water usage and impact on water bodies and greenhouse gas emissions.  

Why does it matter 

Mining activities do more than just extract minerals from the Earth: they also impact and contaminate surrounding landscapes, vegetation, water bodies and air quality. They can also displace communities, affect livelihoods and increase the risk of conflicts. With the EU racing towards decarbonisation, coal mines and regions play a key role in ensuring the social and economic transformation of Europe. Accessible information is thus essential to track the environmental impact of coal mining. 

Providing easy digital access to analyses based on already existing information is also necessary to increase transparency and accountability of industrial activities. EU laws like the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Industrial Emissions Portal Regulation (IEP-R) provide information on the emissions of over 50,000 industrial installations across Europe. However, there is no comprehensive reporting providing information on the multidimensional impact of mining activity. 

Key findings

The new database contains data for 145 coal mines in Europe (97 lignite mines, 39 hard coal and 11 coking coal). 120 mines are in operation, 7 are proposed and 19 have been closed, retired or cancelled. 74 are surface mines, 64 are underground and 7 have mixed operations. The mines occupy about 260,000 hectares and keep 230,000 people employed. 

Data show that ten mines out of 145 account for almost 40% of all the CO2 emitted (estimated using annual production or maximum mining capacity). There are 76 ground water bodies connected to the mines in the database. Over 36% of all the mines and 55% of all the lignite mines are in high water stress areas. 57% of the water bodies are in poor quantitative status and 55% in poor chemical status. The average residential water cost (including wastewater treatment costs) is 11 to 88 times higher than the cost paid by mining operators. 

Lacking data? 

A mine database for Europe, such as the EU Mine Database Viewer, should cover all the environmental, social and economic impacts of mines and indicators for the progress of the just transition plans. However, lack of quality data prevents a full understanding of the impact of mining on the environment. There is no legislation covering all aspects (exploration, production and rehabilitation) of mining in the EU. This activity is mostly regulated at the national level, leading to a scarcity of mining data available to the public and no regular statistical reporting on minerals at the EU level. For example, the EU Mining Waste Directive only covers parts of mining activities, and while the Industrial Emissions Directive requires full information disclosure, it excludes mines from reporting obligations. 

Existing data is not only incomplete, but also difficult to access. Obtaining information on air and water emissions, monitoring data and water consumption from competent authorities in member states poses significant challenges. Even requesting documents under the Aarhus convention, which guarantees the public’s right to information, wields no useful result. The EEB sent 22 requests for information about water consumption to the competent authorities, based on the Water Framework Directive. This effort only received 5 responses – all with incomplete information. This reveals a systematic failure in the implementation of EU law.  

Opportunities ahead 

Access to thorough and reliable information on mining impacts in Europe is far from being guaranteed, yet upcoming opportunities provide hope for enhanced transparency. A European Commission implementing decision to enhance the IEP-R reporting requirements is expected to instate the reporting of yearly production volumes of all mining operations. Furthermore, the discussion on IED revision includes a proposal for reporting water, energy, and raw materials usage of mining operations. Lastly, the recent Commission proposal for the Critical Raw Materials Act entails reporting and monitoring requirements, including EU production capacities at different stages of the value chain. 

These are key opportunities for the EU to close the gap of information about mining activities and ensure a complete overview of mines in Europe. In the meantime, the EU Mine Data Viewer looks to fill in this space and provide a reliable source of information on Europe’s coal mines.