Environmental Protection, renaturation, recultivation

The extraction of natural resources is responsible for lasting interventions in nature and the landscape in Germany, e.g. because overburden has to be removed and heaped up in piles or areas are temporarily used to erect conveyors or other operating plant. The stat- utory requirements of the Federal Mining Act guaran- tee that rehabilitation will be planned at an early stage and taken into account. A balance is achieved between the interests of the extractive sector and the environment in the approval procedure reflecting the Federal State’s plans and mining law. Citizens, the elected political representatives of mining regions together with sectoral authorities, environmental associations and other public interest parties have various opportunities to exercise influence and be involved in co-determination. In general, the principle that the burden on the environment must be kept to the minimum applies to both the planning and opera- tion of mines. In addition to this, the mining operator has an obligation to rehabilitate the areas affected by the extraction of natural resources (§ 55 BBergG). The measures on how the surface will be structured in an individual case is part of the planning and approval process and depends on the original condition of the area used for mining and what the plans are for its future use.

When the mining authorities approve the respective operating plans, one of the aspects they also check is whether the company can finance the costs that will be incurred at the time as a result of future rehabilita- tion obligations. If there are any doubts, the mining authorities can make approval of an operating plan dependent on implementation securities (§ 56 (2) 2 BBergG).

As a rule, the companies make provisions to meet their future mining-related obligations. The purpose of these provisions is to provide financial security for the rehabilitation and the amount must be assessed accordingly. The principles of provisions are the rules on setting up provisions for future obligations that are binding for all businesses under commercial law.

Coal and mining

Rehabilitation during the operational and closing-down phase

Rehabilitation involves ensuring that the surface affected by mining will be property contoured taking account of public interest (§ 4 (4) 4 BBergG). Within the scope of the obligation under mining law to re- habilitate the area, the obligation that simultaneously exists under nature conservation law to compensate for interventions in nature (§ 13 BNatSchG) may have already been met.1

Rehabilitation during the operating

Where rehabilitation is carried out during extraction and processing operations, the areas taken for extrac- tion are generally rehabilitated in parallel to the con- tinuing extraction. In the course of extracting natural resources, the material on the site is piled up and the shape of the land changed whilst adhering to safety requirements. The land is rehabilitated by means of geotechnical, landscaping, hydraulic engineering, agricultural and forestry measures to restore the land usage or biotopes.

For example, during mining the landscape that will follow extraction is drained of groundwater; the structural integrity is ensured for the period after the groundwater is allowed to rise again through areas of infill on the basis of precise planning and appraisals by experts. A prerequisite for successful rehabilitation is compliance with soil-related/geotechnical require- ments. The principles of rehabilitation are also an- chored in the operating plans approved under mining law. Depending on the type of use, the topsoil used for restoration must be “cultivated” and the areas must be gradually looked after and developed.

  1. Agricultural rehabilitation includes scientifically tested crop rotation with which the rehabilitation of the soil can be achieved. Once successful rehabilitation is complete, the areas are made available for their subsequent use and released from supervision by the mining inspection authorities.
  2. Rehabilitation through forestry aims to establish mixed woodland with a variety of uses. Depending on site conditions, native species of trees dominate an effective mix of broad-leaved trees and conifers.

Elements to benefit nature are incorporated to sup- port integrated and widespread nature conservation, e.g. planting native trees, including dead wood and other small structures, hedge planting, planting soli- tary trees, including wild fruit, creating dry biotopes and wet scrapes, retention of small unplanned areas and small areas of succession sites. This work is un- dertaken according to locally recognised methods and in close cooperation with the specialist nature con- servation authorities. It will still be necessary to dewater the surface, build paths and contour the surface for optimum site restoration in order to facili- tate functional use after extraction has finished.

Rehabilitation during the closing-down phase

Once the natural resources have been extracted, rena- turation will be undertaken in accordance with the specification in the final operating plan. In the large majority of cases, a remaining lake exists at the end once opencast lignite mining has finished. The needs of future use after mining will be taken into account in the completion work, providing it has been agreed with future users before the mine was authorised.

Any temporary storage or outside heaps created during mining operations are removed or recultivated. Once checks have been carried out to ensure that the soil is safe, waste that had accumulated in heaps since the start of mining is recultivated to form features such as landmarks and also to meet regional planning criteria.

Mining potash and salts

Potash and salts are natural resources mined in un- derground mines at depths of up to 1,500 metres. In contrast to above-ground extraction of raw materials in opencast mining, apart from the areas required for processing plant the mining of potash and salts does not take up large areas of the surface that would then require extensive rehabilitation of the surface used. For areas used for heaps of residues in potash mining, compensatory and substitution measures are imple- mented (e.g. reforestation, species protection meas- ures). The heaps are established, operated and shut down (including possible rehabilitation) in line with the relevant requirements under mining and environ- mental law and taking the relevant site conditions into account.

Drilling boreholes for crude oil and natural gas

Restoration and recultivation of opera- ting sites after drilling and extraction

Once the drilling phase that lasts between two and five months depending on the depth has been com- pleted, the operating site is reduced in size. As only the borehole seal and a few items of plant to separate, collect and transport the extracted crude oil/natural gas remain there, the production equipment is barely visible or audible any more during the entire period of usage.

The deposit is depleted after 20 to 30 years on aver- age. The plant is then removed, and the whole bore- hole filled up and sealed. The production and pro- cessing plant as well as the operating site including the seal are completely removed and the area used recultivated. Aquifers therefore remain protected in the long term and the area can be used again.1


Quarrying can be authorised both under mining law and outside mining law (as described here (Approval of mining projects). The regulations in the Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG), Water Resources Act (WHG) and the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) are im- portant for the extraction of natural resources which, as what are termed free-to-mine and privately-owned natural resources, do not come under mining law as defined by § 3 BBergG..

The provisions of these laws guarantee that the impact of the mining will be balanced out (see Managing human intervention in nature and landscape). This means the operating licence is granted on the basis of planning and rehabilitation considerations or, expressed in other terms, authorisation to operate will not be granted unless provision has been made for the needs of nature conservation. A balance is achieved in the approval process between the interests of the extractive sector and the environment, both in respect of regional planning criteria and also the plant. The groups that are to be consulted (citizens, elected representatives, sectoral authorities, environ- mental associations and chambers) are given various options to participate.

In general, the principle that the burden on the envi- ronment must be kept to the minimum and both land and soil must be carefully conserved applies to both the planning and the operation of plants that require a licence. In addition to this the plant operator has an obligation to compensate for significant unavoidable impacts to nature and the environment through com- pensatory and substitution measures. In addition to the condition of the surfaces, the measures to take for shaping the surface in an individual case and also during the extraction phase depend on the future use of the site.

Nature conservation dominates in the afteruse of extraction sites. Although the companies in the sector temporarily intervene in nature and the landscape because of economic imperatives, they do at the same time create a wide range of very different valuable habitats as a result of recultivation and renaturation. Former but also operating extraction facilities are important hideaways for rare animals and plants. Valuable biotopes become established here after a short time.

The companies encourage biodiversity as a result of cooperation with nature conservationists and target- ed management measures. In 2004, the building materials industry affirmed its commitment at national level with a declaration together with the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and the construction agri-environmental (IG BAU) and mining, chemicals and energy trade unions (IG BCE) industrial trade unions. In addition to this, companies in the quarried natural resources industry are involved in the “Biodiversity in Good Company” corporate network; German Building Materials Association – Quarried natural resources (bbs) is involved as the sector’s umbrella organisation in the corresponding “Enterprise biological diversity” association network.

The bbs, in cooperation with its members in the extrac- tive sector, are establishing a nationwide biodiversity database to document the contributions that the quarried natural resources sector is making to protect and conserve biodiversity.

1 See Managing human intervention in nature and landscape for more information on how nature is affected by extracting natural resources.

2 Bundesverband Erdgas, Erdöl und Geoenergie e.V. (German association for natural gas, petroleum and geothermal energy) (2021): Removal and reculti- vation of operating sites. URL: https://www.bveg.de/Erdgas/Umwelt-und-Sicherheit/Rueckbau-und-Rekultivierung (Accessed on 10 December 2021).