The Bigger The Better
Classic Plant & Machinery|October 2017

The Ariño coal mine is not only one of largest operations in Spain today, but also relies on the services of some of the country’s largest earthmovers, writes Steven Vale

 

The rugged terrain between the villages of Andorra and Ariño in north-east Spain used to contain over 120 million tonnes of lignite. Lying roughly in the middle of a triangle between Zaragoza, Barcelona and Teruel, like many other mountain villages in this remote area, Ariño owes its very existence to the lignite buried deep below the surface.

Back in the 1960s/1970s, the dozen deep mines in the local area provided 5,000 jobs. Many of these underground mines were closed towards the end of the 1980s in favour of a string of surface mines running for nearly 15km. Five decades later, the last 30 million tonnes that remain are all locked in seams at the Santa Maria mine at Ariño, which belongs to a family-owned company called SAMCA.

Located in the rugged Sierra de Arcos, within sight of the tranquil mountain village, the locals are proud of the village’s link to the past, and there is plenty of evidence of former deep mining activities.

The road through the village passes the relic of a former head frame and winding wheels from an underground mine. Travellers with time to stop and walk the narrow and steep streets will find a couple of old coal wagons, and there is even a street called Calle Minas. And yes, this road does indeed eventually meander up the mountain, providing spectacular views of the surface mine on the way.

Santa Maria is not just SAMCA’s largest remaining surface mine (there is also an underground mine at the site) but also one of the three largest coal mines in Spain today. While most lignite is brown, Santa Maria’s lignite is as black as the night sky in this remote region.

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