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The mineral resources in Spain.

For this issue of Mining Magazine, to mark the occasion of the 15th World Mining Congress to be held this month in Madrid, Dr. Ing. Jose Roson Trespalacios, Chairman of the Club Espanol de la Mineria, has written the following commentary:

"A first glance at the panorama of the Spanish mining industry might lead us to deduce that the country's mineral resources are reasonably attractive, its human and technological resources excellent but the financial resources, for some of its activities, notoriously insufficient. However, with the exception of the depressed sectors of conventional mining, the business structures of the industries related with these resources reflect an excellent degree of dynamism.


Crude oil production in Spain is relatively recent and has never achieved a position of relevance within the framework of national consumption. The production peak was achieved in 1983 and amounted to 3 Mt (6% of Spanish consumption overall), these coming from the three Mediterranean off-shore fields of Amposta, Casablanca and Dorada, and the Ayoluengo oilfield in Burgos. This figure has now been reduced to 1 Mt/y. Spanish production overseas, via Repsol Exploracion (previously called Hispanoil), amounts to 140,000 bbl/d (7 Mt/y).

Spain's gas production, based on two discoveries, one south of the Pyrenees in Jaca and the other beneath the waters of the Bay of Biscay, amounts to 1.4 Mtoe. Gas currently represents 6% of the country's primary energy, the total being made up of the above-mentioned national production plus imports from Algeria (3.6 Mtoe) and Libya (2.2 Mtoe). The foreseen connections with the European gas pipeline network and the Magreb, across the Straits of Gibraltar, should allow Spain to implement a gas policy in electricity production and industrial and domestic consumption placing it in line with Europe by the end of the decade.

Spain's geological potential may be considered modest with respect to oil, fundamentally from the Mediterranean and Cantabrian off-shore fields, and somewhat larger with respect to gas, from the Bay of Biscay and the offshore Betica formations in the south of the country, the geology being complex and difficult to prospect due to the weak geophysical response.

Coal, with exploitable reserves having an energy content of 430 Mtce (73% bituminous coal including anthracite and the rest sub-bituminous coal and lignites), shows an annual production of 19 Mtce. The geological resources are appreciably larger, although a significant part of them might be situated in deposits that would be difficult to work with full mechanisation.

Electricity production on the Spanish mainland (i.e., not including the Balearic and Canary Islands) amounted to 146,612 GWh in 1991. Of this total, 43.9% was generated by conventional fossil-fuelled plants (42% coal and the rest divided between fuel-oil and gas), 37.9% was nuclear in origin and 18.2% hydro-electric.

The contribution made by coal, which represents an important percentage, will undergo a slight increase throughout the present decade, mainly by use of imported coal which currently represents 15% of the thermal coal utilised, and will reach 32% by the end of the century. Spanish production, with the closure of uneconomic underground mines and the opening of replacement open-cast mines, will remain practically stable.

Nuclear production, which occupies a significant place in the Spanish electricity system, is provided by nine groups representing a total installed capacity of 7,363 MW. The average figure of hourly use of the country's nuclear power plants has put them in the leading position amongst European plants in 1991 (8,377 h of equivalent full power in the case of Garona, 8,365 for Almaraz I, 7,346 for Cofrentes, 7,571 for Asco and similar figures for the others).

As regards support for this industry, and more specifically the three components of the first part of the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium concentrates, enrichment and fuel manufacturing, national coverage is high.

The exploitable uranium reserves available at the Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca) open-cast deposit belonging to Enusa (Empresa Nacional del Uranio) are evaluated at 30,000 t of concentrates, the proven reserves for the country as a whole increasing this figure by 50%. National uranium production will shortly cover threequarters of the annual demand. The 11% participation by Enusa in Eurodif implies considerable coverage as regards enrichment services, and the Enusa fuel element manufacturing plant in Salamanca provides a capacity equivalent to twice the current Spanish consumption.

In completing this view of the country's primary energy resources, I shall refer to hydro-electric power. Spain's gross fluvial capacity is 150,000 GWh/y, the technically exploitable part of this total amounting to 70,000 and the installed power currently standing at 30,000 GWh/y, all these figures corresponding to an average year of hydraulicity. It is estimated that an economic potential of 10,000 GWh/y still remains. The configuration of the Spanish hydroelectric system, with its series of large regulating reservoirs and pumping stations -- among which those located in the basin of the river Duero are particularly outstanding -- currently provides a peak power excess of 1,200 MW, after the regulation needs of the national system have been covered. This peak energy capacity constitutes a valuable element of base load exchange with the European system, which shows a deficit in peak energy.


With regards to the country's metal resources, the medium-term future lies in the pyritic strip stretching across the south-west of Spain and the south of Portugal. Given its geological characteristics, large area and variety of substances, this strip constitutes one of Europe's greatest reserves of both base metals (copper, lead and zinc), precious metals (gold and silver) and the so-called rare or lesser metals (indium, selenium, gallium and germanium), which are of great interest in a world of constant technical development.

This area, which houses workings as well known as the Rio Tinto and Tharsis mines, joined later by Aznalcollar and Sotiel, has for several years seen intensive prospecting campaigns that have led to the discovery of four new, non-outcropping, masses of pyrite with polymetallic sulphides: Aguas Tenidas, Los Frailes, Migoya and Valverde. Each of these masses provides potential production figures varying between 30 and 50 Mt, with areas of high concentrations of zinc and copper.

With the current understanding of the geology in this area, and the experience gained with computer-aided gravimetry and electromagnetic geo-physical methods, it is now possible to undertake prospecting of a large part of this area, in which the prospective formations are covered by layers of Devonian-Carboniferous slates of considerable thickness, with high hopes of success. The possibility of discovering a new "Neves Corvo" is in the minds of all those involved in exploring the area.

The Iberian Massif is made up of Palaeozoic metamorphic formations with Hercynian granites and covers 70% of the Portuguese national territory and 40% of the Spanish. To this are attached the remaining geological formations that go to make up a continental platform, containing areas possibly housing metal ore deposits (Cantabria and the Basque Country -- zinc; the Iberian chain and the south-east -- base and precious metals). In addition, there are large continental sedimentary basins favourable for the prospecting of industrial minerals.

Business aspects

The Spanish economic system is currently out of step with the EEC in certain areas. The inflation rate (6%) is appreciably higher than that of the three countries having the lowest figures for this particular parameter, and the cost of money is also appreciably higher. The budget deficit exceeds the reference point of 3% of the GNP, although Public Debt, another indicator of the reducing gap between the Spanish economy and that of the European Community, is below 60% of the GNP.

Spain is also affected by a considerable trade deficit, largely due to the need to strengthen its equipment infrastructure following incorporation to the EC. The demand for consumer goods is high, but investments are insufficient in both production means and infrastructure, and labour relations are still excessively rigid.

In spite of this situation the Spanish economy shows important potential for dynamic development.


In the field of hydrocarbons, Repsol and Cepsa in the oil business and Enagas and Catalana in natural gas are ideally dimensioned, economically prosperous companies.

The first of these, Repsol, the truly transnational Spanish company, is involved in important upstream activities throughout the world, and also possesses a very complete downstream range of activities, with a refining structure equipped with a high capacity for transformation and petrochemicals production backed by major installations for both olefins and BTX.

The Spanish electricity sector is highly efficient. It is currently made up of two major groups: Iberdrola and Endesa (each with 40% of the country's total generation capacity) and others amongst which Union Fenosa stands out, with its own coal production at the Meirama lignite mine. The sector's periods of non-interruption and variations in frequency are comparable to the highest European standards. Endesa, which since its constitution has leaned heavily toward coal production (brown coal in Galicia, black lignites in Teruel and hard coal in Encasur) is an important dynamic vehicle in coal technology, from exploration and exploitation to fluid-bed combustion and gasification techniques.

The generating capacity of Iberdrola rests fundamentally on hydroelectric and nuclear energy, with exemplary installations in both cases and very high performance figures.

Leaving the field of energy and moving on to the wide field of mining for metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), as a basis for fertilizers and in industrial minerals, the business structure presents widely varying characteristics.

The steel and fertilizer industries, like many basic industrial areas, are currently involved in a process of restructuring aimed at allowing them to face world-wide competition. This is having repercussions on the mining industry which provides them with their raw materials.

As regards base metals, the most important Spanish mining industries originally began as members of foreign groups and, since separating from them, have continued to operate locally, lacking a suitable dimension for operation at international level. Several of the major foreign mining firms are involved in prospecting in Spain, their participation increasing in both development and production.

In the field of industrial minerals, business activity has been keen, but is limited to medium-sized or small companies that are generally very dynamic but lack the funding and capacity of major international groups. These last have now begun to participate in this field in Spain.


Activity in the field of ceramics is based on a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.

Spain, with production figures of 260 million |m.sup.2~/y of ceramic paving and facing materials, is currently the world's second largest producer, behind Italy but ahead of Brazil.

The country's extraordinarily dynamic ceramics industry exports 50% of its production and includes 212 factories, of which 157 are located in the province of Castellon. In facing the challenge of quality, the industry has managed to position the design and quality of its materials in the front line at world level, along with Italy. One example of the industry's capacity of penetration is the degree to which the Lladro artistic ceramics have captured world markets, and the relatively short time in which this has been achieved.

Natural stone

The complex tectonics of the Iberian Peninsula have produced a wide and interesting range of natural stone products. Spain is today the world's leading producer of slates, with figures reaching 400,000 t/y, and the second in the production and marketing of marbles and granites.

Natural stone, with a production figure of 3.5 Mt/y, represents 15% of the total value of the country's mining activity and occupies third place behind the hydrocarbons and coal.

The capacity of the country's artisan workforce as regards the working of natural stone is very high. The organisation of the sector, in small industries and co-operatives, has shown itself to be commercially highly dynamic, and has managed to introduce and establish on the market a series of registered type names which are now accepted throughout the world, such as "Porrino" pink and "Perla" grey in granites and "Marfil" cream, "Marquina" black or "Alicante" red in marbles.

Mining strategy

Referring finally to Spain's mining strategy, it would appear to be advisable to develop this jointly with Portugal because of the similarity of the mining interests of the two countries within the European Community.

In another direction, our mining-related energy strategy leads us to collaborate with the countries of the Magreb. Regardless of socio-political movements, these nations and Spain will necessarily have to learn to understand each other.

Mineral resources at world level are currently faced with an exciting scenario including numerous unanswered questions: the breakthroughs expected from the application of technology; the mining policy of the European Community; the conversion of the mining industries of the eastern bloc countries to a market-based economy; the unknown future of the People's Republic of China;' and the role of the developing nations in Africa, South America and the area of the Pacific. These are all issues of the greatest interest.

We hope that the debates that will take place during the 15th World Mining Congress, to be held in Madrid during the month of May, will cast light on all these issues.

"The level to which the programme of the Congress has been drawn up undoubtedly leads us to believe that we shall not be disappointed."
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Publication:Mining Magazine
Date:May 1, 1992
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