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Can old mine shafts be flooded?

A court in Saarland is to clarify from today whether old mine shafts may be flooded. So far, the operator RAG has been pumping out pit water in German hard coal mines that have been shut down. But the costs are high.

In 2018, the last piece of hard coal in Germany was transported to the surface at the Prosper Haniel colliery in Bottrop. After centuries, coal mining in Germany ended. In Saarland, the last coal mine ceased operations in 2012. On June 30, 2012, almost exactly eleven years ago, the last shift was run at the Duhamel mine in Ensdorf near Saarlouis.

RAG wants mine water to rise

But the work in the mines did not end there. The operating company RAG has to deal with so-called perpetual tasks. This includes pumping seeped rainwater out of the old shafts. On its way into the shafts, it dissolves minerals, especially salts, from the rock. But RAG wants the pumps to stop running forever.

In Saarland, the former Ruhrkohle AG applied in 2017 to allow the water level to rise to a depth of 320 meters. It is said to be the first phase of the pit flooding. In the future, the shafts should fill up completely. The water would then be channeled from the surface into the Saar.

On the other hand, resistance was formed by some municipalities, environmental protection organizations and the Greens. They fear that the first phase of the pit flooding could already lead to toxins entering the groundwater and vibrations. About two years ago, the Saarland Mining Authority approved the first phase of RAG. It would be a pilot project, the consequences of which are controversial.

Pumps have had to keep running so far

With the approval, however, RAG could not immediately let the water rise. Several municipalities went to court against the decision of the Oberbergamt. They suffered a setback last year. The Federal Administrative Court clearly curtailed the right to sue against the mine flooding. However, some municipalities and organizations found a way to maintain their complaints.

The first three of a total of eleven lawsuits are being heard today before the Saarland Higher Administrative Court in Saarlouis. The city of Saarlouis, the municipality of Merchweiler and the water protection association ProH2O, which was founded in response to the RAG plans, submit their objections to the mine flooding. A verdict is expected within the next 14 days.

Even then, the question will probably not be finally decided. There are still no hearing dates for eight other lawsuits. In addition, those involved in the process could move on to the Federal Administrative Court.

operating company wants to save money

Running the pumps costs a lot of money. When mining in Saarland ended in 2012, RAG set itself the goal of making the perpetual tasks as cost-effective as possible. It spends 20 to 30 million euros a year pumping the water out of the Saar mines.

However, the RAG-Stiftung also has sufficient financial resources. According to her own statements, her assets amounted to 17 billion euros last year, and she made a profit of 347 million euros. The affected regions, however, are still struggling with the consequences years after the end of hard coal mining in Germany.

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