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    Concerns for the Environment vs. Priorities for Mine Closures

    Underground Waters from the Mines of the Polish Mining Group (PGG S.A.) are discharged into rivers based on valid water permits. Their salinity is continuously monitored, and no violations of standards have been found so far. The mines voluntarily undertake various additional environmental actions in the Vistula and Oder watersheds.

    Unfortunately, these facts don’t seem to matter to “Gazeta Wyborcza,” which, in the absence of concrete evidence, has decided to demonstrate the blame on mines through literary allusions (referring to paragraph 22 from Joseph Heller’s novel, which was meant to show the alleged absurdity of regulations and the application of existing laws).

    The article titled “Will Polish Waters Restrict Coal Mine Permits? Applications Have Been Submitted,” published on Monday, August 7, 2023, presents a one-sided narrative from lawyers at the Frank Bold Foundation and Greenpeace activists, who demand that Polish Waters limit the permits issued to mines for discharging underground waters. The text is based on the confusing assumption that the ecological catastrophe on the Oder River in the summer of 2022 was definitely caused by toxic blooms of golden algae due to river salinity from mining activities. This hypothesis has not been scientifically confirmed, while it is known that the factors contributing to the catastrophe are much broader and more complex. This manipulation isn’t surprising when considering the openly anti-coal agenda of these organizations, echoed by the editorial board.

    The article completely ignores the responses and explanations from PGG S.A., which the author of the article had requested. Among the numerous manipulations, one glaring example is the completely false accusation that the Sośnica mine supposedly doesn’t conduct water tests. Therefore, in the 2022 report to Polish Waters, outdated results from eight years ago were mentioned. However, Polish Waters allegedly does not require the mine to provide up-to-date data.

    In truth, we clarify that based on the existing water permit, the PGG S.A. Sośnica mine is required to conduct underground water tests at the discharge point every two months. Accredited laboratories perform sample collection and physicochemical analyses. After the Oder catastrophe, PGG S.A. voluntarily increased the frequency of these tests to every two weeks. Furthermore, the mine’s discharged waters from Sośnica are tested daily by the mine’s laboratory. Every time a water permit is applied for, the mine includes up-to-date analyses. The 2014 analyses mentioned in the article were additional tests conducted before and after the discharge point, which the mine is not obligated to perform and were not covered by the supervisory authority’s decision.

    In the article (“paragraph 22”), the legal provisions allowing special treatment of mines in terms of water management are ridiculed. However, there’s nothing absurd about this: every mining activity is inseparably linked to the necessity of continuous dewatering of underground excavations. Such dewatering is essential not only for the proper operation of the facility for technical and economic reasons, but also for the safety of workers. Complete cessation of mine water discharge is not permissible, as it concerns the health and lives of those working underground!

    The company emphasizes that all PGG S.A. facilities, without exception, possess legally required water permits and adhere to specified conditions regarding the quantity and quality of discharged waters. A review of the permits conducted by the State Water Holding Polish Waters, contrary to “Gazeta Wyborcza’s” claims, has not revealed any inconsistencies or violations in the implementation of water permits.

    Regarding the actions of Frank Bold and Greenpeace (the article illustrates their actions with a photo from the blockade of the collector at the Halemba mine earlier this year by activists inexplicably dressed in chemical protective suits and gas masks), the author assesses that they have shown signs of genuine concern in the face of real environmental danger. It’s unfortunate that the publication completely ignores evidence of such concern from the mines. Here they are:

    To protect the Oder and Vistula rivers, the Polish Mining Group S.A. has been discharging underground waters for many years using the "Olza" and "Mała Wisła" hydrotechnical systems. These systems account for 80% of chloride and sulfate loads discharged by all PGG S.A. mines. These systems operate by retaining underground waters in surface and underground reservoirs during low river levels, allowing for safe discharge when river levels permit.

    To enhance river protection, PGG S.A. has established in recent years:

    • A retention system (with a tank capacity of over 135,000 m3) at the Sośnica mine, allowing full retention of underground waters for about 22 days in case of a poor state of the Oder River.
    • Mobile retention at the ROW Ruch Rydułtowy mine (with a capacity of 50,000 m3, including 40,000 m3 underground tank and 10,000 m3 in surface reservoirs) allowing full retention for 3 days.
    • One-time retention in mine workings and waterways at the Bielszowice mine (with a capacity of about 50,000 m3) allowing partial suspension of water discharge for 5 to 10 days.
    • Surface reservoir retention at the Staszic-Wujek mine (with a capacity of about 25,000 m3), allowing water discharge suspension for 3 to 5 days.

    To improve water monitoring, the company has acquired additional laboratory equipment, including portable conductivity meters (measuring electrolytic conductivity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen), and spectrophotometers for rapid measurement of mine water composition. Portable devices for automatic sampling of sewage and water have also been acquired.

    With further investments in mind, the Main Mining Institute in Katowice has been tasked with developing an optimal direction for managing mine waters to reduce anthropogenic pressure on the environment for each mine within PGG S.A. The company is also in discussions with industrial solution providers for water treatment and desalination.

    PGG S.A. is involved in the international research project “Life Brine Mining,” co-financed by the EU LIFE fund. The main goal of the project is to demonstrate integrated technologies for desalinating mine waters and promote solutions for closed-loop economy in coal mining. This will improve mine water management, including resource efficiency. The project is currently underway at the Ziemowit Piast-Ziemowit mine and was previously conducted at the Bolesław Śmiały mine.

    Additionally, in response to the Oder catastrophe from a year ago, PGG S.A. has taken several initiatives to improve water management, including:

    • Reducing water inflows at the source using mining-geological methods.
    • Utilizing underground waters for technological and fire-fighting purposes to reduce the amount of water discharged into surface waters.
    • Increasing retention of underground waters on the mine surface (including selective retention of highly saline waters).
    • Expanding hydro-technical protection systems on rivers.
    • Conducting ongoing quantitative and qualitative monitoring of underground waters, rivers, and waterways (before and after discharge).
    • All the actions described above, undertaken by the Polish Mining Group S.A., are aimed at improving environmental safety.

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