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Minerals and Fuels

Coal is Poland's most important mineral resource. In 1980 total reserves were estimated at 130 billion tons. The largest coal deposits are located in Upper Silesia in the southwestern part of the country, where large-scale mining began in the nineteenth century. Silesian deposits, generally of high quality and easily accessible, accounted for about 75 percent of the country's hard coal resources and 97 percent of its extraction in the 1980s. The Lublin region of eastern Poland was exploited in the 1980s as part of an expansion program to supplement Silesian hard coal for industry and export. But development of this relatively poor, geologically difficult, and very expensive field ended in 1990. A number of unprofitable Upper Silesian mines also were to be closed in the early 1990s.

Poland also has significant quantities of lignite in the district of Zielona Góra in the west and in two districts located in the central part of the country between the Vistula and the Oder rivers. This low-quality fuel has been used on a large scale for the production of electricity, despite its very damaging effect on the environment (see Environment and Pollution , ch. 2). Plans called for gradual reduction of lignite extraction and use in the 1990s (see Fuels and Energy , this ch.).

Natural gas is extracted mostly in Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia, and in the southeastern part of the country. Production expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, then declined in the next decade. In 1989 domestic production covered 43 percent of the country's total requirement.

A major offshore oilfield was discovered in the Baltic Sea in 1985. Including that field and the older fields in the Carpathian Mountains in southeastern Poland, total oil reserves were estimated at 100 million tons in 1990. Poland remained heavily dependent on the Soviet Union for petroleum throughout the 1980s.

Large reserves of sulfur at Tarnobrzeg and Staszów in the south-central region make that material Poland's most important nonmetallic export mineral. Favorable geological conditions have supported large-scale operations in three mines yielding about 5 million tons annually. About 3 million tons of sulfuric acid, along with several other chemicals, are produced each year.

Poland has limited deposits of some nonferrous metal ores. The most significant is copper, which is extracted in large quantities at ten mines in Lower Silesia in southwestern Poland. Copper production expanded greatly after discovery of major new deposits in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1990 annual copper ore output was about 26 million tons, and 51 percent of electrolytic copper was exported. In 1982 Poland had the world's fifth-largest deposits of lead and zinc (which occur in association). The annual output of lead and zinc ores was about 5 million tons, supporting annual production of 164 thousand tons of zinc and 78,000 tons of lead. In 1990 about 76 percent of Poland's zinc and nearly all its lead were used by domestic industry.

Although Poland had some fairly large iron ore deposits, this ore requires enrichment before processing. Until the 1970s, the main source of iron ore was the district of Czestochowa; but output there declined sharply in the early 1980s, and other deposits were of poor quality or provided such small quantities that exploitation was unprofitable. The country depended on iron imports from the Soviet Union and Sweden to support the rapid expansion of the steel industry that was a high priority in the communist era.

Rich deposits of salt provide an important raw material for the chemical industry. Salt mining, which began in the Middle Ages, was concentrated in the Wieliczka-Bochnia area near Kraków until the middle of the twentieth century; then the major saltmining operations moved to a large deposit running northwest from ód in central Poland. Salt is extracted in two ways: by removing it in solid form and by dissolving it underground, then pumping brine to the surface. Annual output declined from 6.2 million tons in 1987 and 1988 to 4.7 million tons in 1989. Other mineral resources include bauxite, barite, gypsum, limestone, and silver (a byproduct of processing other metals).

Data as of October 1992

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Poland Table of Contents