The first documents which stated that Bolko II the Small granted the Sachenkirchen family the right to build a heritable adit in Stary Zdrój near Wałbrzych. "It is not known, however, which mineral was mined there," writes Adam Frużyński in "Zarys dziejów górnictwa węgla kamiennego w Polsce". However, taking into account the location of the tunnel, it can be assumed that it was coal.
The first documented extraction of hard coal in Polish lands, and its description can be found in the town records of Nowa Ruda in Lower Silesia. Mining developed dynamically in this region and lasted a very long time – over 550 years – until it was closed entirely. Today, Australians are interested in building a new mine in this area; however, it is still planning.
First information on coal mining in Upper Silesia. Although the mines are still operating there, the plants in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie irretrievably terminated their work. The last one to close was the Kazimierz-Juliusz coal mine in Sosnowiec in 2015.
The construction of the first coal mine in the modern sense – Boże Dary in Katowice – which was closed in 2015. It became famous many years ago not only because of extracting coal – miners working there repainted the roadheader pink and named it "Jola" (popular Polish woman's name). The pink "Jola" from the Murcki mine (Boże Dary mine belonged to it at the end of its operation) made the coal mine famous all around Poland.
The first miners' strike in the mining industry due to difficult working conditions and lack of housing. It was organized in the Duchy of Pless. In the same year, the state authorities, to protect domestic coal, introduced a ban on imported coal. It concerned mainly English coal – a severe competition for the Silesian product. Today, the ban on the import of coal to Poland cannot be introduced due to the EU regulations. Poland cannot do it alone – the whole EU would have to do it.
The first mining school was established in Świerklaniec, where students were prepared to work in the mine (e.g. mining surveying classes were organized). The school was closed in 1823, but it was quickly reactivated – it turned out the industry needed professionally educated staff. Mining schools were highly popular, mainly after World War II when coal mining became one of the Polish economy's critical sectors.
In Silesian mines, horses started to work. The last "full-time" horse finished working in the Wieczorek mine in 1960, but the truly last one, which played a slightly different role, left the Wieliczka salt mine in 2002. It was a famous horse called Baśka which unfortunately died shortly after. In 1929, 741 horses were working in the coal mines in the Polish part of Upper Silesia. Working underground, they mostly lost their sight. The most famous horse working in the mine was the protagonist of "Łysek z pokładu Idy", a book written by Gustaw Morcinek.
The Mining Academy in Krakow was founded. In 1946 it changed its name to the AGH University of Science and Technology. It was another sign of the demand for professional staff in the mining industry, also the well-educated staff. The mining industry of coal, crude oil and natural gas was constantly gaining importance. The latter two raw materials have been extracted in Poland since 1854.
The Barbara experimental mine was opened in Mikołów. The research was conducted on workplace health and safety there, and some experiments were also done there related to underground coal gasification (UCG). That mine currently belongs to the GiG Research Institute. It is its oldest part. Today, it is also the only one such large mining test site in Europe, where gas and dust explosions can be studied.
The Polish Coal Trunk-Line – the main railway line connecting the coal mines and steelworks of Upper Silesia in the South and the Baltic Sea port of Gdynia in the North started to operate (the part from Katowice to Gdynia was 552 km long). In the beginning, coal transports dominated the cargo carried along this route (approx. 60%). It improved the country's economic situation and developed the possibility of exporting black gold by the sea route.
Along with the seizure of Upper Silesia from the Germans after World War II, the recovery of mines began. The retreating occupant army tried to destroy as much as possible by swamping the mines, but groups of workers were trying to stop it. The first mining unions were formed, grouping the mines. One of the obstacles at the end of World War II and straight after it was the lack of railway wagons, so mining was limited, but the People's Government decided to invest in the sector. It allowed for increased production (it increased from about 38 million tons in 1945 to over 60 million tons in the early 1950s). The employment also grew from less than 40 000 in 1939 to almost 400 000 in 1990. Today 80,000 people work in the coal mining industry.
The debut of the first Polish mining shearer loader KW-52 for coal extraction, produced in Piotrowicka Fabryka Maszyn (today's Famur). It was created based on solutions used in constructing the WM-60 shearer loader and the Soviet Donbass-1 shearer loader. Straight after World War II, when the mechanization of mining had started for good, Polish mines had bought Donbas and Shahtior shearer loaders.
A pioneering methane drainage station was built in the Silesia mine in Czechowice-Dziedzice. Methane – the silent killer of miners, an odourless gas that is lighter than air, was flowing through a nearby refinery pipeline. In the old days, the miners were taking canaries underground to protect themselves. The birds were sensing the too high methane concentration much earlier (depending on the methane concentration, the gas can ignite or explode). Today, one of the most famous methane drainage systems can be found in the Brzeszcze mine, where methane flows through a pipeline to Michał Sołowow's company Synthos. The Brzeszcze mine is one of the plants with the highest methane concentration.
The first mine in Lubelskie Zagłębie Węglowe started to operate. Lubelski Węgiel "Bogdanka" SA is the only mine operating in this region. However, several sister investments were initially planned, but due to the initial geological problems of Bogdanka, it was not implemented. It is the first Polish hard coal mine to debut on the Warsaw Stock Exchange in 2009. Today its market capitalization is approximately 0.82 billion zlotys.
The first reform of the mining industry in Poland, which aimed to put the structure of mines in order. It was implemented by the government of Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka. Wacław Niewiarowski was the minister of industry and trade, and he was the one responsible for the mining industry. On March 15, 1993, the hard coal mining restructuring program was adopted. The mines were grouped into coal companies (six sole shareholder companies owned by the State Treasury and 14 mines – a sole shareholder joint-stock companies). A few months later, the government had to start saving the mining industry from collapsing because the industry could not manage the market economy reality, especially with the simultaneous decline in demand for coal.
The last hard coal mine in Poland was opened. It was a Budryk coal mine in Ornontowice, belonging to Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW). In the Budryk coal mine, there is the deepest level of coal extracting – 1290 m. Soon JSW will complete the construction of a new Bzie-Dębina mine – its opening is planned for 2022.
The mining reform of Jerzy Buzek's government, which lasted until 2001. More than 92 000 miners from over 20 closed mines left the mining industry. The capacity for coal extraction was reduced to 21 million tonnes of annual production. All of the Dolnośląskie Zagłębie Węglowe mines were closed.
The last hard coal mine in Lower Silesia (in Nowa Ruda) was closed – the same city where the beginnings of coal mining in Poland were officially documented. Two years earlier, the last mine in Wałbrzych had been closed. Nowadays, it is a museum and a tourist attraction called Stara Kopalnia.
The worst mining disaster in the modern Polish mining industry took place in the Halemba mine in Ruda Śląska. Twenty-three people were killed there as a result of a methane and coal dust explosion. The second worst mining disaster was the methane catastrophe in 2009 in the KWK Wujek Ruch Śląsk mine in 2009. Twenty people were killed then.
After exactly 50 years, the ban on women working underground in the mines was terminated in Poland. The denunciation of Convention No. 45 did not mean that women should be forced to work underground but that such work would be allowed. It concerned regular underground work because irregular work of geologists or surveyors was allowed all the time.
Ewa Kopacz, who in 2014 became the Prime Minister of the government formed by the Civic Platform party, did not solve the problems of the mining industry. The "Śląsk 2.0" program did not help, and it was not possible to work out a compromise to close unprofitable mines. For example Tauron Polska Energia SA was forced to take over the unprofitable Brzeszcze mine. Kompania Węglowa was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was replaced by the Polska Grupa Górnicza, which so far has received approximately 4 billion zlotys of financial support from other state-owned entities, and it is still unable to overcome financial problems. In 2017 Polska Grupa Górnicza took over Katowicki Holding Węglowy S.A, another company in poor financial condition.
A breakthrough year for the hard coal mining industry in Poland: a social agreement was forced between the government and the mining trade unions describing the mines closing schedule, which will impact obtaining EU funds to cover the costs of a fair transition. The talks began in September 2020, after the project of the State's Energy Policy program until 2040 was announced. According to it, the share of coal in the total energy mix will drop by 2040 from 70% to only 11%. It sparked miners' underground strikes. In 2021 the EU will also announce the plan about becoming climate-neutral by 2050. It means that the member states will have to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions.
The closure of the last coal mine in Poland extracting hard coal for the energy sector will be completed. The cut-off date for the extraction of coking coal needed for steel production, which today is on the list of critical raw materials in the European Union, has not yet been established. Unlike steam coal, it cannot be easily and low-cost replaced (at least for now).