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Market Competition Has Been Great for Russia's Coal Mining

Russia's mines now exceeding Russia's coal production under Communism while tying up far less labor and suffering far fewer accidents 

Russian (blue) and Ukrainian (red) coal production 1990-2017. (Source: g enby).

Russia coal production has expanded by 6.7% during the seven months of this year, so it should produce at least 430 million tons of coal this year.

RSFSR/RF (red) and Russian Empire/USSR (dark red) coal production 1897-2005.

This would place it ahead of the all time peak of RSFSR coal production of 420 million tons, reached in 1988. Some 200 million of this is exported, up from a couple of tens of millions of tons in the late 1990s.

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This is accompanied by great increases in productivity – coal output per worker doubled in the 2000s alone.

Meanwhile, the rate of accidents has been plummeting.

Mining safety in the RSFSR and Russia. From top to bottom at the start: Accidents, fires, cave-ins, and explosions. (Via genby)

Mining safety in Russia since: Orange – number of deaths; red – number of accidents. (Via Rossiyskaya Gazeta).

It is worth noting that there the coal industry in Russia is highly competitive and not wrangled up in state ownership.

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There was a good FT article about it a few months ago: Russia’s next revolution: how technology came to the mines

Suek, the coal-mining group that runs Kosmin’s mine, is currently rolling out big-data tools and automation across its 26 mines in Kemerovo and elsewhere in Siberia. In some mining operations, it is even experimenting with completely replacing workers with machines. “There are a lot fewer people needed down there now,” says Kosmin. “I saw how my dad worked, and heard his stories. They needed a bunch of people just to get the drive going, and they were still working with shovels. Now I just push a button.” …

The threat of job cuts hangs over many Kemerovo towns like a layer of industrial smog — a fear that dates back to the waves of lay-offs that people have endured since the Soviet Union went under in 1991. “At the end of the 1980s, up to 330,000 people were employed in the coal industry in Kemerovo Oblast, but now this number is down to 91,000,” says Yuri Shevelyov, a mining professor and adviser to the region’s deputy governor.

But the comfort is only skin-deep. “Eventually, machines will replace all of us,” says Anatoly, 60, an electrical machinist who maintains the ventilation system at one of the largest coal mines in Polysaevo. Having worked underground for 41 years, he laughs bitterly as he says that the only jobs being created are “for accountants”. In the past, he explains, “being a miner was like, wow, a miner, proud. No more. Now it’s something below average. In the past, we would be walking around like real men. Now people say, ‘What for?’ It’s no longer a prestigious profession.”

Over the past two years, Suek has piloted Russia’s first fully automated longwall in Polysaevo, trying to cut coal underground without a single worker on site. Although company executives say the project has shown that its mines are not ready for full automation, the experiment has spooked the locals. …

Yevgeny Kosmin believes that he will be among the winners. As Suek offers merit-based pay components, his record-breaking brigade’s modern mine has been a good place to work. In July, he took home Rbs183,000 (£2,400) — more than four times the salary ordinary workers in neighbouring mines say they get.

Such perks have won him over to a fundamentally different industrial economy. “Progress will not stand still. I think human labour will decrease — humans will just watch and control the technology,” he says. “Man will press a button, everything starts spinning, he sits, watches it work via a monitor. In a clean shirt, not smeared in dirt. I think it will come to that.”

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In other news, Russian private gas producer Novatek is now worth more than state-owned behemoth Gazprom.

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