Donets Coal Basin

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Donets Coal Basin


the most important coal basin in the European part of the USSR, located primarily in Voroshilovgrad and Donetsk oblasts of the Ukrainian SSR and Rostov Oblast of the RSFSR.

General information. The main part of the Donets Coal Basin, the Old Donbas, has an area of 23,000 sq km. During the years of Soviet power the boundaries of the Donets Coal Basin have been significantly expanded because coal has been discovered in Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, and other oblasts. The area of the Greater Donbas is over 60,000 sq km (length, 620 km from west to east; width, between 70 and 170 km from south to north). Total geological reserves of coal (1968) are 128 billion tons (hard coal to depths of 1,800 m, brown coal to depths of 600 m).

The surface of the Donbas is a rolling plain. Its highest elevations (to 367 m) are in the Donets Ridge. The main rivers are the Severskii Donets, Don, Kal’mius, and Samara.

The population density of the Donets Coal Basin reaches 144 persons per sq km (1970; in Donetsk and Voroshilovgrad oblasts); 86 percent of the population is urban. Among the most important cities are Donetsk, Voroshilovgrad, Lisichansk, Gorlovka, Makeevka, Kramatorsk, Kadievka, Konstantinovka, and Shakhty. The Donbas has the most dense railroad network in the USSR.

Geological survey. The first information on the geological structure of the basin was obtained in the early 18th century by the expedition of Peter the Great’s Berg-Kollegiia (Collegium of Mines), headed by the prominent ore specialist G. G. Kapustin. In the years 1864-69 the first geological map of the western part of the basin was compiled on a scale of 10 versts (10.7 km) to one inch. In 1892 the Geological Committee began a systematic study of the geology of the Donets Coal Basin, drawing a geological map on a scale of 1:42,000. This work was done under the direction of F. N. Chernyshev, L. I. Lutugin, and N. O. Lebedev.

During the years of Soviet power geological maps of the main coal-bearing regions have been made on scales of 1:5,000 and 1:25,000, geophysical and hydrogeological research has been carried out, a geological coal-chemistry map has been compiled, and work has been done to study the geology of the basin.

In 1932, P. I. Stepanov suggested the hypothesis that the area of distribution of coal deposits known at that time (the Old Donbas) was just part of a larger coal basin, the Greater Donbas, which extended in the east to the foothills of the Northern Caucasus and the Sal Steppes, in the west almost to Kiev and Nezhin, and in the north to the boundary with the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly. The results of subsequent work confirmed P. I. Stepanov’s hypothesis and led to a considerable broadening of the boundaries of the industrial coal region. In the 1950’s the new coal industry regions were determined and explored.

The main components of the geological structure of the Donets Coal Basin are Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks occurring unconformably on crystalline rocks of Precambrian age. In places the strata of sedimentary rocks are penetrated by acidic and basic magmatic rocks of Upper Devonian, Permian-Triassic, and Jurassic age. The oldest sedimentary rocks are sandy-argillaceous deposits with layers of Upper Devonian limestones (up to 600 m thick). In some places Devonian deposits are absent and deposits of the Carboniferous system occur on a crystalline foundation. Carboniferous deposits are represented by all three series: lower (C1), middle (C2), and upper (C3). The total thickness of the deposits of the Carboniferous system in the central, axial part of the basin reaches 18 km and then steadily decreases in both directions from the axis, especially in the western part of the basin, to 3-6 km. The lower part of the section of the Carboniferous system consists of massive limestones, while above, up to the boundary with the Permian system, there is an enormous stratum of alternating sandstones and slates with subordinate beds of coal (of varying thickness) and limestones. In the northwestern part of the basin Permian deposits up to 3,000 m thick occur on deposits of the Carboniferous system without interruption or discomformity. In the lower part of the Permian deposits there are three series of strata (from the bottom to the top): cuprous sandstone, gypsum-dolomite, and salt-bearing. The varicolored sandstone-conglomerate stratum that occurs unconformably on Lower Permian rocks presumably belongs to the Upper Permian. Mesozoic beds are superimposed with erosional disconformity on various horizons of the Paleozoic section and are represented by all three systems—Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Cenozoic deposits are represented by the Paleogene, Neocene, and Anthropogene systems. Predominant are loose Paleogene deposits (sands, clays, marls, and gaizes, with a total thickness up to 450 m), which include deposits of brown coal in places, as well as Neocene deposits (yellow sands with layers of refractory clays).

The Donets Coal Basin is a large synclinorium located between the Voronezh anteclise and the Ukrainian crystalline rock mass. The basin began to form in the Upper Devonian when descending movements predominated, rhythmically alternating with ascending movements. The present-day structural plan of the basin took shape under the influence of Hercynian tectogenesis, with considerably weaker manifestations of tectonic movements in the Mesozoic era.

The Donets Coal Basin is polytypic. The Old Donbas has features typical of geosynclinal-type coal basins; to the west of Krasnoarmeisk and to the north of Voroshilovgrad, there are features of the transitional and platform types of coal basins. The main structural element in the Old Donbas is the Main Anticline, which runs along the Gorlovka-Gornaia line. Adjoining it from the north is the Main Syncline, which is divided by a transverse uplift into the Bakhmut and Sadki troughs; from the south it is adjoined by the Kal’mius-Torets trough with its eastern closure, the Chistiakovo syncline, and the Shakhty-Nesvetaev syncline, which is located to the east of the above-mentioned uplift. Each of these regional geological structures is complicated by local structures. On the slopes adjacent to the Ukrainian and Voronezh crystalline rock masses and between Artemovsk and Pavlograd the rocks of the Carboniferous system form domelike folds, while to the west of Pavlograd and in the Starobel’sk-Millerovo region they have a gently sloping, almost horizontal monoclinal bedding. There are faults and overthrusts of various amplitude in many parts of the basin (especially in the northern part of the Old Donbas).

Occurrence of coal. Beds and bands of coal are typical for the entire cross section of the Carboniferous system and for deposits of the Upper Paleogene and the Lower Neocene in the northwestern part of the basin. Coal beds of the Carboniferous system are arranged 20-40 m from one another; in the eastern part of the basin the intervals are 100 m. The total number of beds and bands in the lower series of the Carboniferous system is about 100, while in the middle series it is 200, and there are 15 in the upper series. Most of the workable seams are between 0.6 and 1.0 m thick. All the main ranks of coal are common in the Donets Coal Basin: long-flame coal, gas coal, fat coal, coking coal, lean caking coal, lean coal, semianthracites and anthracites, and transitional forms between brown and long-flame coal. The petrographic composition of the coal is quite uniform. The coal belongs to the class of humites that sometimes contain small sapropel-humus bands. Fine bands of liptobioliths are typical of coal of the lower series of the Carboniferous system. The coal is high-quality fuel. The average combustion heat of commercial working fuel is 5,200-6,000 kilocalories/kg. There are low-phosphorus and low-sulfur coals in the western part of the basin and high-sulfur coals in the northern part. Exploitation of most of the coal seams is accompanied by the liberation of gases, including methane; the abundance of gases generally increases as the depth becomes greater.

The Donets Coal Basin is rich in other minerals in addition to coal. The northwestern part has a series of natural-gas deposits (including the very large Shebelinka deposit); rock-salt deposits are being worked in the area of Artemovsk and Slaviansk; the large Nikitovka antimony-mercury deposit is in the western part of the Main Anticline; beds of chalk (for the soda industry) are found in Lisichansk Raion and near Slaviansk; and there are cretaceous marls (for obtaining cement) in Amvrosievka and other raions. There are flux limestones and dolomites (primarily in Volnovakha and Starobeshevo raions), quartzites, refractory clays and foundry sands, sandstones, limestones, and crystalline rocks, which are used for industrial and residential construction, and mineral dyes.

Economic-geographic survey. The first industrially significant coal mines were opened to provide fuel for the Lugansk metallurgical plant, which was built in 1795-97. But it was soon closed, and the production of cast iron using coal was not resumed until the 1830’s. Because of the lack of transportation and for other reasons coal production was in-significant until the 1860’s: between 1796 and 1806 only 40,000 tons of coal was produced; in 1860 about 100,000 tons was produced, and in 1870 the figure was 250,000 tons. A sharp increase in the production of coal began after the reform of 1861, as capitalism developed in Russia and the railroads, the sugar industry, and later the metallurgical industry of the South began to consume more coal. The production of coal increased 100 times between 1870 and 1913, reaching 25 million tons (22.8 million tons of which came from the Ukrainian part of the present-day Donbas). The basin was first among the coal regions of Russia in terms of production. This was promoted by large-scale railroad construction, especially the opening of the Kursk-Kharkov-Azov line in 1869, the Voronezh-Rostov line in 1871, and the Donbas-Krivoi Rog railroad in 1884. The railroads provided a way to deliver coal to the consumption areas and ensured the importation of iron ores from Krivoi Rog into the coal basin for large-scale metallurgical industry. At this time the main consumers of coal were the railroads (1881, 49 percent; 1913, 27 percent) and the metallurgical industry (1913, 22 percent). The Donets Coal Basin became the main component of the southern mining industry region.

Like the rest of Donbas industry, the coal industry was in the hands of foreign capitalists. The Franco-Belgian syndicate Produgol’ (founded in 1904) controlled 75 percent of the coal mining in the Donets Coal Basin and almost 70 percent of its marketing. The monopolists exploited the workers cruelly. Coal was extracted manually in the mines. In 1913 there were 1,200 mines, with an average yearly production of 21,100 tons per mine. The power of mechanical engines per mine averaged 150 horsepower, but this mechanical energy was used only for hoisting the coal, ventilation, and water drainage.

The coal industry of the Donbas suffered major damage during the Civil War of 1918-20. In 1920 just one-sixth as much coal was produced as had been in 1916. The rebirth of the Donbas began during the period of reconstruction. By 1928 output had reached 30.7 million tons. During the prewar five-year plans (1929-40) more than 100 new mines, mine equipment plants, coal enriching plants, and other enterprises were built. Coal production rose sharply, reaching 94.3 million tons in 1940 (which included 83.5 million tons in the Ukrainian Donbas). Along with the rise in output came a fundamental modernization of the mines and concentration of production; 87 percent of the coal was extracted at mines with a daily productivity of more than 500 tons. In addition to its position as the Soviet Union’s main metallurgical base, the Donbas became a region with comprehensively developed heavy industry.

In 1941-43 the fascist German occupiers destroyed industry, in particular the coal industry, almost completely. Rebuilt in the postwar period, the coal industry is developing on the basis of new technology, large-scale capital construction, and growth in labor productivity. Between 1951 and 1970 most of the mines were renovated, several hundred new mines and enriching plants were built and expanded, including some with daily production capacities of 4,000-5,000 tons, and even more productive mines were excavated—the Krasnoarmeisk, the Kapital’naia with a capacity of 12,000 tons, and the Voroshilovgrad No. 1, which is being put into operation and has a capacity of up to 10,000 tons. Most of the mines, including the deepest ones (1,000-1,200 m), are located in the central part of the basin. Plans have been drawn for mines descending to a depth of 1,500 m to extract the most valuable coking coals and anthracites. There are 372 mines (enterprises) and 94 concentrating plants in operation in the basin; the concentrating plants include 36 for coking and 58 for concentrating energy coals (1969). The presentday Donbas is the leading area in the USSR for production of coal (193.4 million tons or 36 percent of USSR coal production in 1968, including 74.5 million tons of coking coal). The Donbas has a high level of mechanization: cutting and breaking up coal, 100 percent; loading in drift mines, 88.1 percent; delivery, 100 percent; haulage and loading onto railroads, 100 percent (1969). Full mechanization and automation is being introduced, and by 1969 it encompassed more than 70 mines; in addition, hydraulic mining is being introduced (2.9 million tons in 1968). The economy of coal extraction is affected by the need to dig and operate deep mines (the average depth of extraction in 1956 was 292 m, and in 1968 it was 437 m) and the nature of the coal bedding: up to 20 percent is in steeply pitched beds and 13 percent in inclined beds. More than 40 percent of the reserve is in beds 0.5-0.8 m thick. Further development of the basin, however, is efficient in national economic terms because of the basin’s advantageous geographic location, the concentration there of more than 70 percent of the reserves and up to 90 percent of the production of coking coal in the European part of the USSR and a significant share of the energy coals, and the proximity to the main consumers—metallurgical, power, and other industrial centers. Almost 65 percent of the coal production of the basin is consumed in the Ukrainian SSR and Northern Caucasus Economic Region, while the rest is delivered to other regions, primarily the European part of the USSR, and for export.

Further development of the Donets Coal Basin is linked to intensifying extraction at existing mines and working newly explored regions and deep horizons. In 1970, 23 mines with a capacity of 47.5 million tons were being built, and 28 mines were being modernized. (The increase in capacities after reconstruction will be about 10 million tons by 1976.)

The Donets Coal Basin is one of the USSR’s major industrial centers. A high-powered complex of heavy industry, construction, and transportation has developed in a planned manner on the basis of the various minerals that are extracted in the region and iron ore that is brought in. Steam power plants, a mercury combine, and metallurgical, machine-building, cement, and chemical plants and combines, as well as other enterprises that are among the largest in the country operate in the Donbas. Comprehensive development of light industry and food industry and major residential and cultural construction are under way.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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