mining

   Spain possesses a rich and diverse variety of mineral resources that have supported mining and quarrying activities throughout the country, embracing sources of energy (coal, oil, gas and uranium), metallic minerals (copper, iron, lead, mercury, pyrites, tin, wolfram, zinc, silver and gold), non-metallic minerals (including potash and salt), and quarry products (such as limestone, sand and gravel, granite, marble and slate). In the last quarter of the twentieth century coal and metallic mineral mining were in decline, a process slowed by government subsidies, direct government intervention and the remnants of protectionism. Weak prices, shifting patterns of demand, liberalization of markets and increased international competition, rising production costs, low-grade deposits, exhaustion of deposits and more stringent environmental regulations, combined to reduce these activities to a fraction of their former size. A recovery in mineral prices, new prospecting techniques and production technologies may enable output of some of these minerals to recover but there is unlikely to be any increase in employment. Quarry products, on the other hand, continue to respond to the cyclical pattern of demand in the construction industry. Apart from problems endemic to mining itself, domestic markets for many minerals have shrunk. In some cases raw material processing industries have closed or raw materials have been displaced by new production technologies (for example in iron and steel). The liberalization of other markets, such as electricity generation, metal manufacturing, heavy chemicals and fertilizers, has enabled manufacturers to buy raw materials more cheaply on the open market. The consequent decline of raw material production has left the country dependent on imports, especially of energy and metals. In the mid-1990s there was a trade deficit in energy, metallic and non-metallic minerals, with a surplus only on quarry products.
   Energy products have represented the largest component of the mining industry by value of output, while quarry products account for the majority of mineral workings. Within the energy sector, coal and lignite account for most of the value of output and employment. In metallic minerals, zinc and precious metals (gold and silver) are the principal products followed by iron and mercury. Almost all lead, copper, pyrites and tin production had ceased in the mid 1990s. Of non-metallic minerals, potash and salt remain important products. Limestone is the most important quarry product, both in terms of value of output and the number of people employed in its extraction, followed by sand and gravel, granite, marble and slate.
   Mining activities have attracted settlements dependent on the mines. Mine closures have threatened these communities, prompting stiff union opposition and government intervention at regional, state and European Community level. The problems have been most serious in the coal mining areas of Asturias and León and in the metal mines of Huelva. In many of these communities the population has declined, undermining their viabi-lity through the selective out-migration of working-age people and the closure of services.
   In former mining areas, centuries of mining have left a legacy of old mine workings, environmental degradation and pollution that will challenge the environmental industry well into the twenty-first century. However, these old mine workings also constitute a resource in themselves, part of the industrial heritage of Spain, which can be adapted to form the basis of alternative employment in local tourism (as for example around the Rio Tinto mines in Huelva). This is one avenue which may lead to the regeneration of mining areas.
   Further reading
   - Checkland, S. (1967) The Mines of Tharsis, London: George Allen & Unwin (a company history).
   - García Guinea, J. and Martínez Frías, J. (1992) Recursos minerales de España, Madrid: CSIC (a detailed inventory of mineral resources).
   - Harvey, C. (1981) The Rio Tinto Company, London: Alison Hodge (a company history).
   - Salmon, K. (1995) The Modern Spanish Economy, 2nd edn, London: Cassell (chapters 4 and 5 include references to the mining industry).
   - Tamames, R. Estructura económica de España, Madrid: Alianza Editorial (the content of the discussion varies according to the edition).
   KEITH SALMON

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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