Irkutsk
Ulan-Ude

Blagoveshchensk
Chita
Yakutsk

Birobidzhan
Vladivostok
Khabarovsk

Magadan
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Anadyr
Petropavlovsk-
Kamchatsky
Moscow

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Coal: a great gift and curse of Transbaikalia

Coal, like any useful resource, is an ambiguous treasure. You can get rich on it, but you can also lose health. Transbaikal and Transbaikal residents have not yet amassed riches on it.

Exactly a year ago, on February 26, 2020, in an interview with the Zabaikalsky Rabochy newspaper, Honored Geologist of Transbaikalia, Professor Vladimir Salikhov spoke out against the gasification of the region, stating that this would lead to the closure of dozens of coal enterprises and the reduction of thousands of workers. The scientist believes that it will be much more profitable in all respects to engage in deep processing of coal, which lies under the feet of the Transbaikal people. But how is this possible in the Trans-Baikal Territory, where the Siberian Coal Energy Company (SUEK) rules the ball on the fuel and energy market?

Coal: a great gift and curse of Transbaikalia
Photo: EastRussia
Special project Coal of the East of Russia

The history of coal mining in Transbaikalia goes back to the times of Peter the Great, in the first half of the 18th century, when mining began to develop in the Nerchinsky Zavod. The real deal with coal in the region was in Soviet times. In total, 46 coal deposits were discovered on the territory of the Chita region, 22 of them were being developed.

The main pearl of the coal necklace of Transbaikalia was the Kharanorskoye coal deposit. An all-Union shock construction site was developed here. At the same time, a coal mine was being developed and the Kharanorskaya GRES was being built, which was to become the flagship of the Trans-Baikal energy sector.

THE BIRTH OF A GIANT

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the coal industry, like all others, began to experience difficult times. Coal - the basis of life support for Transbaikalia has become expensive and scarce.

In 1996, in order to somehow streamline the work of the energy complex of the region and eliminate interruptions in the operation of heating plants, with the active participation of the Chita region administration on the basis of JSC Kharanorsky open-pit mine, Vostochny open-pit mine, Tigninsky open-pit mine and Bukachach mine ”, Which were previously part of OJSC“ Vostsibugol ”(Irkutsk region), OJSC“ Chitaugol ”was created.

The idea was simple - to establish uninterrupted coal production, which would ensure the normal and trouble-free operation of heating plants and power plants in the Chita region.

The difficulties for the new joint-stock company began already in 1997, when a fire broke out at a mine in Bukachach. Some time later, it had to be closed, and the miners' settlement was on the brink of survival - there was simply no other work here. In addition, the accounts receivable and payable of coal enterprises grew.

Meanwhile, two Russian entrepreneurs Andrei Melnichenko and Sergei Popov (MDM banking group) began to create a large industry holding. It was based on the idea of ​​uniting coal mining enterprises in the Chita region, Buryatia and the Irkutsk region. The result was the creation of the Siberian Coal Energy Company.


In 2002 Chitaugol OJSC passed under the wing of SUEK. The new owners promised to liquidate accounts payable and receivable, as well as contribute to the implementation of the program of technical re-equipment of enterprises that are part of Chitaugol. The main sources of its financing are loans from MDM Bank and the Ministry of Finance.

CROWN HOPES

In 2002, enterprises from Khakassia and the Krasnoyarsk Territory joined SUEK, and in 2003 from the Khabarovsk and Primorsky Territories and the Kemerovo Region. The company becomes number one in Russia in terms of coal production.

But the authorities of the Chita region did not get what they wanted. This primarily concerned coal prices. Since 2002, the cost of fuel has steadily increased until in 2008 it reached its all-time high of $ 136 per ton.

Transbaikal consumers bought coal at world prices. No preferences and benefits. For this reason, consumer debt grew. Tariffs grew in parallel.

By the time of the unification of the Chita Region and the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug, relations between the regional authorities and SUEK were very tense. The company was reproached for setting monopoly high prices for coal, and it, in turn, threatened to stop supplying coal due to the large debt of consumers.

Bukacacha, whose restoration the Chita authorities had hoped for, was left to fend for themselves. SUEK was not interested in this coal deposit from the very beginning. The fact is that coal in Bukachach was mined in mines. In addition, Bukachachinsky coal tended to ignite spontaneously in mines, which required additional and expensive protection measures. It was cheaper for SUEK to close this field.

In Transbaikalia, the company operates deposits where coal is mined in an open way, which is much easier and cheaper.

It should be remembered that the coals of the Kharanorsky and Vostochny sections are brown. They give less heat, and the ash content is high. But Chitinskaya CHPP-1 and Kharanorskaya GRES are designed for just such coal.

Higher-quality, thermal coal from the Tugnuisky open-pit mine is not suitable for Trans-Baikal CHPPs and boiler houses; SUEK sends it to the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.


Apsat coal (this deposit was included in SUEK a little later) - coking coal, goes to the Asian premium coking coal markets and the Russian metallurgical market. But due to the fall in coal prices in October 2020, SUEK mothballed the Apsatsky coal mine. The news is disappointing and leads to even sadder reflections. 

SMALL ANGLES - GOOD OR REALITY?

By 2010, the confrontation between the authorities of the Trans-Baikal Territory and SUEK reached its climax. Coal miners were reluctant to make concessions, and the region simply did not have the extra financial resources to curb the growing appetites of coal miners. On this wave, the head of the region Ravil Geniatulin ordered to find a coal deposit with sufficient coal reserves to fully cover the needs of the Trans-Baikal Territory in fuel.  

“The fact is that coal miners are steadily raising prices before the start of the heating season, in this case every month, by an average of 10%. Unfortunately, the price of coal is not subject to regulation, suppliers set it at their own discretion. We have concerns that this price is different from the cost of coal. On this occasion, the governor held a meeting and gave appropriate instructions. In the near future we will prepare a list of deposits that could be used for our own needs, and then we will try to organize a tender or auction on this matter, ”said the then Deputy Prime Minister of the Trans-Baikal Territory Evgeny Vishnyakov.

According to the official, due to changes in coal prices by SUEK, the regional government has to seek an additional 60 million rubles. And this is in conditions of a deficit budget and on the eve of the heating season. The actions of the monopolist could not be called anything other than twisting hands.

The desire to get your coal source in such conditions is quite understandable and, what is most interesting, it was real.

Residents of the Trans-Baikal Territory walk on coal and this is not a metaphor. It lies shallow, in some deposits it is enough to remove from 3 to 50 meters of the upper soil, and now they are coal seams. Brown coal is another matter almost everywhere; its quality is worse than the Kharanor coal and coal from the Vostochny open-pit mine. But under the conditions of SUEK's dictatorship, this did not stop anyone - they were ready to use less quality coal, just to get rid of the monopolist's dictate.

After the command of the Governor of the Trans-Baikal Territory, some small entrepreneurs began to master a new business for coal mining. The experience of coal mining by one small enterprise in the Karymsky region, near the Darasun station (70 km from Chita) is noteworthy.

A small LLC won the right to develop a coal deposit. Brown coal, with a high ash content, but its indisputable advantage was that it lies practically on the surface. Overburden - from 3 to 8 meters. This is a mere trifle.

Despite the low characteristics of coal, it was eagerly bought by the regions precisely because of its cheapness. There was one more advantage: if SUEK sells coal in trains and at 100% prepayment, coal miners from Darasun sold fuel in any batch, starting from a sack. For the poor municipalities of Transbaikalia, this was a salvation. You can always find money for one or two KamAZ coal trucks. This will be enough for some time, but the main thing is that there is no need to immediately invest in coal millions of rubles, which are often not available in the budgets of districts and settlements.

Needless to say, the topic of small open-pit mines in the Trans-Baikal Territory has not been developed yet? In Darasun, coal miners worked for a season and a half and closed, and the regional authorities soon forgot about the idea of ​​their own coal deposit. After the resignation of Geniatulin in February 2013, this idea was not even mentioned.

FLEXIBLE "POWER OF SIBERIA"

When the first information about the construction of a gas pipeline to China was leaked to the press, hopes for getting rid of the coal monopoly flared up with renewed vigor in the Trans-Baikal Territory. They became especially stronger after the map of the future gas line was published - it passed along the southern end of Lake Baikal and crossed through and through both Buryatia and the Trans-Baikal Territory.

However, the environmental component of the future project has surfaced. As a result, the gas pipeline was laid in deserted places north of Lake Baikal.

But as evil tongues say, SUEK put pressure on the springs known only to him, and the ecological component of the future project surfaced. As a result, the gas pipeline was laid in deserted places north of Lake Baikal.

As everyone understands, there is no documentary evidence of the coal monopoly's involvement in changing the project, but in the Trans-Baikal Territory they are confident in this version.

However, as they say, everything is done - everything is for the best? After all, no one has yet counted how much the connection to the gas pipe will pour out into Transbaikalia? Suppose Gazprom ran a main pipeline with gas through the entire Transbaikalia. But the region will have to build branches from it. Will the subsidized region have such a huge amount of money? And coal - here it is, it is literally underfoot and there is a lot of it.

COAL OR GAS? SUEK OR GAZPROM

“If you stretch the pipe, what to do with the coal miners, what will become of thousands of workers and their families? Unfortunately, the country already has a sad experience. With the arrival of gas to Yakutsk from the Vilyui gas-bearing region, dozens of mining settlements in Yakutia were closed, the same situation was in Primorye, when gas came there from Sakhalin, and we also partly suffered, since we stopped supplying coal from the Kharanorsky coal mine to the Far East. It is criminal to pull a gas pipeline here in the current economic situation. We need to focus on our raw materials, first of all, on the deep processing of coal, ”says Professor Salikhov.

The more they talk about the gasification of Transbaikalia, the less they believe in it. Talk about this has been going on for more than ten years, but there is no real progress.

“We are fighting for the Ministry of Energy to give us a feasibility study for the gasification of the region, which Gazprom has prepared. On behalf of the president, they jointly carried out all the calculations and had to show them to us. We wrote to the Minister of Energy of Russia Novak, and to the plenipotentiary of the president in the Far Eastern Federal District, Trutnev, so that they would give us these calculations, which indicated that gasification was ineffective. Now we cannot but challenge and confirm this, ”said Alexander Sukhanyuk, Deputy Minister of Housing, Energy, Digitalization and Communications of the Trans-Baikal Territory in November 2020.

As expected, in January of this year it became known that the region was not included in the program of accelerated gasification of regions.

“The Trans-Baikal Territory was not included in the list of 67 regions with which Gazprom signed agreements,” the press service of the regional Ministry of Housing and Communal Services reported.

On February 18, 2021, the Governor of Transbaikalia, Alexander Osipov, took part in a meeting with the participation of Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Alexander Novak, Deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin, Deputy Head of the Antimonopoly Service Vitaly Korolev and Deputy Chairman of Gazprom PJSC Vitaly Markelov. Prospects for gasification of Transbaikalia, issues of modernization of housing and communal services in the region and environmental problems in Chita related to air polluted due to coal were discussed. Judging by the lack of intelligible comments, the gasification of Transbaikalia again (for the umpteenth time?) Is postponed indefinitely.

Supporters of gasification are pushing for the deterioration of the ecological situation in the regional center. For example, at the end of December 2020, in Chita, an excess of the maximum concentration of phenol was recorded 1,6 times higher than the permissible value. The reason is that the private sector is fueled by coal.

Is it all about SUEK again? Now let's think about it - officials of the government of the Trans-Baikal Territory, the press, and social activists spend a lot of time and effort on processing Gazprom, which a few years ago said that gasification of the region is ineffective and extremely costly.


But all this time there were no attempts to reach an agreement with SUEK, for example, on the production of smokeless coal from cheap brown coal in Transbaikalia. This is already being produced in the Krasnoyarsk Territory by the same SUEK. Why not use the same technology in Transbaikalia?

At present, a new technology for the use of low-grade coals is being developed in Krasnoyarsk - the Termokoks concept. It provides for the production of two products with high consumer value in an environmentally friendly way from brown coal: gas and coke residue used in metallurgy. The conversion of coal into gas fuel, according to Professor Salikhov, who has already been mentioned here more than once, has been known for a long time, but this technology is impressed by the complete absence of ash dumps.

From the answer of the press service of the Siberian Coal Energy Company, where a request was sent about the possibility of using low-grade coals and the production of smokeless fuel from them, it follows that this, if possible in the Trans-Baikal Territory, then only in a sufficiently distant time perspective and subject to several conditions:

“Today smokeless fuel is produced in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, and the enterprise has sufficient capacity to meet demand in the regions of Siberia and the Far East. Smokeless fuel is sold to consumers at the lowest possible price, since for SUEK it is largely a social and environmental project.

If the consumption of smokeless fuel grows in the country, then, theoretically, the possibility of organizing production in other regions, including in the Trans-Baikal Territory, is not excluded, but it must be borne in mind that it will be necessary to adapt the technology created for the coal of the Berezovsky mine.

Coal chemical production today operates in different regions of the country, while it should be borne in mind that, as a rule, today, given the small scale of production of such products, these are capital-intensive, but unprofitable projects. At the same time, we understand the prospects of coal chemical production and are constantly studying the possibilities of deep processing of coal.

We consider our relations with the leadership of the Trans-Baikal Territory constructive, built on the basis of dialogue, aimed, among other things, at jointly solving many pressing social and economic issues in the region. Our goals coincide - both the leadership of the region and SUEK are interested in the constant improvement of the quality of life of the inhabitants of Transbaikalia, economic growth and strengthening of social stability in the region. "

Another environmentally friendly and economical option, the scientist called the use of coal-water fuel. The mixture is prepared from ultrafine brown coal and water and is fed through a pipeline. Coal pipelines, according to Salikhov, can be used to supply fuel from the Vostochny open-pit mine to the Chita GRES, from the Kharanorsky open-pit mine to the Kharanorskaya GRES, and from the Urtuisky open-pit mine to the Krasnokamensk thermal power plant.

“We need to clearly understand that direct combustion of coal in furnaces, which is happening everywhere today, is a crime. For the Trans-Baikal economy, coal should become the main minerals involved in the economic turnover, ”Professor Salikhov is sure.

The Trans-Baikal Territory, after its transition to the Far Eastern Federal District, received a lot of benefits and preferences. TORs are starting to operate in the region, in which preference is given to enterprises with innovative production. In a little over a year, only one resident appeared with the production of fuel pellets from wood processing waste. Why should the government of Transbaikalia not interest the same SUEK and place the production of smokeless coal, gas fuel and coke residues in the region? There will be enough raw materials for many years to come, and the economic effect will be deafening. It is worth for the Trans-Baikal officials to establish normal cooperation with the coal company and more closely involve it in the activities of the Zabaikalye ASEZ. I am sure that a tenth of the efforts that have been spent on the long-term persuasions of Gazprom will be enough for innovative coal processing plants to appear in the region.

Since there is so much coal in Transbaikalia, maybe it's time to start turning it into gold?

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