We are on patrol with the police in the Polish city of Walbricht. There were at most five large coal mines here.
The last one closed in 1999, but the city is actually built on top of a huge coal seam.
Since then, the beautiful forest has become a national park, and the coal is so close to the surface you can grab it with a shovel.
Police officer Tomasz Sakowski told NRK that police now have to patrol muddy forest roads more often in search of illegal coal mining.
– We see an increasing trend. As coal prices rise, more and more people are willing to buy coal on the black market. It’s simply cheaper, he says.
Fear of death
We come to an opening in the forest where several large holes have been dug. The deepest is about four meters deep.
Sakowski said the holes are dangerous for coal miners and pedestrians.
– Climbers can fall down and walls can collapse anytime. Policeman says casualties are due to illegal coal mining.
Count the goal with the car and trailer
People drive in and hang out and start digging, Sakowski says.
In one hour, one can earn NOK 2,000. A typical worker’s salary in Poland is NOK 10,000 per month.
A bonfire can be seen on the floor and empty beer cans are strewn about. It’s clear that there have been both parties and barbecues here during this unusual coal dig.
Coal is sold on the black market, often with the help of social media or through friends and relatives, according to police.
Coal prices skyrocket
Nearby, we see a company that legally sells charcoal. Almost five times the price of coal.
We meet a distraught customer, Robert, who tells us he needs to tighten his belt. He explains that there will be fewer cinema trips and restaurant visits.
– but at least I can buy what I need for the winter. There are many pensioners in an absolutely tragic situation and it’s a disaster for them, says Robert.
About forty percent of Polish households use coal for heating in winter. Winter is coming now.
Coal shortage in Poland
Like other countries in the European Union, Poland has also undertaken a green transition. Many coal mines have been closed and turned into museums and national parks.
But economic sanctions against Russia have led to coal shortages in Poland.
There is an end to cheap coal imports from the big country in the east. Before the war in Ukraine, the Poles imported ten million tons of coal from Russia.
A lot of coal is also used to generate electricity because gas imports from Russia have ended.
As a result, Polish coal trader NRK has started importing from Australia and Colombia.
It is a part of Poland where people live above large coal reserves.
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