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Granite block supply in Russia

Date: 04/03/2012 | Published: News

The legal obstacles to be overcome before opening a natural stone quarry in Russia are explained. Investments will not be forthcoming without a resolution to these problems. Meanwhile the country´s stone processing factories have to rely to an increasing extent on imports. In this report*, I.O. Sinelnikov & O.B. Sinelnikov propose some practical solutions. (*This article was translated from the Russian original in Gorny Zhurnal 2009, No.3, and appears here by kind permission of the publishers and authors.)

Trading in granite blocks is a long-established international business. With a world trade (export-import) volume of around 4 million m3, Russia exported 3.400 m3 and imported 17.700 m3 in 2006.

The annual volume of granite block production in Russia is around 110.000 m3. This puts the country in 19th place in the world, with just 0,6% of the total. It is hard to imagine why with all its vast territory and inexhaustable geologically proven resources, the domestic stone business is not developing. Countries with a land area hundreds of times smaller than Russia´s produce a far greater quantity of blocks. Italy extracts 12,7 times more, Turkey 10,3 times, Spain 10 times, Portugal 4,5 times, Greece 2,3 times, France 1,9 times, Belgium 1,4 times and Germany 1,2 times more.

The integration of Russia into the world business is being hampered by internal causes. Above all it is due to the limitations of the legal framework at all stages prior to opening a new stone quarry, beginning with obtaining the initial planning documentation and finishing with obtaining the final product. It was during the 1930s that the first document defining technical requirements for blocks of natural stone was published. In this document the dimensions of a commercial block were determined by economic considerations, however in subsequent amendments dimensions were omitted. The latest version, State Standard GOST 9497-98 (published in 1998), classifies blocks according to their dimensions alone. This definition of a commercial block entered into legal practice when calculating reserves and planning stoneworking establishments. As a result, in the USSR and later Russia what is considered as a block would be termed a reject or tombola in the outside world.

Outside Russia there are no federal documents specifying requirements for blocks, except for weight limits for road transport. Block sizes and quality are requested by the buyers, so that the producers establish price guidelines for their products. The minimum size for an ordinary granite block overseas is around 2,5 m3. The more valuable the material the smaller a block can be. In world practice it has long since been known that the slabbing of small blocks is wasteful, however in Russia we are talking about the so-called ´balanced reserves´ and therefore conflicts can arise between the stone producers and the tax authorities. At the present time court proceedings are under way involving the companies Vozrozhdeniye, Vyborg Mining Co. and Oyayarvi regarding taxes on the extraction of natural stone blocks.

Russian producers of blocks, slabs and tiles have been using imported quarrying and processing machines for a considerable time and are fully conversant with the economic aspects of the business. They are aware of the backward nature of the legal aspects still prevailing in Russia and are obliged to import blocks more and more frequently. In some years the country imports up to 30% of its granite block requirements. With the establishment of new stone processing factories, the volume of imports will increase. For example, a new stone processing section at Glebychevsk Ceramics Factory near Vyborg, formally opened in December 2008, purchased granite blocks to a value of 150.000 € in Finland because of the raw material supply problems within Russia.

A big problem

If it remains unsolved, the current situation could lead to an almost complete cessation of natural stone block extraction in Russia, with adverse consequences for the country´s economy. The situation would also aggravate social tensions in depressed regions which have natural stone resources, depriving them of investments, employment possibilities and infrastructure improvements. State aid is clearly needed.

If we consider the use of granites for funerary arts, here in Russia there is a complete lack of rules. Due to a great shortage of gabbro type black stone, buyers will accept any irregular shaped pieces of rock from which they can fashion a slab. Economic considerations are not the determining factor, as all costs are borne by the buyer. Since gabbro is sold for a high price, there is no incentive for the producers to extract blocks or even square irregular shapes. Therefore despite a considerable volume of extraction of gabbro in Russia, the production of commercial blocks is insignificant. The high demand for gabbro-diabase blocks has pushed prices up to crazy levels, with ruinous consequences for block quality. If sold for the memorial business, prices for blocks are 10 – 15 times higher than for general purpose rubble. In addition, random shaped pieces of gabbro are counted as blocks which distorts the production statistics. As a result, when monitoring the production of granite quarries the authors have distinguished between commercial and random shaped blocks (called tombolas in some European countries ).

We use the term commercial block for a product whose dimensions correspond to international norms, and which is basically intended for primary sawing on orthogonal sawing or gang sawing machines. What we have termed as random blocks (tombolas) are all remaining blocks classified as such in Russian statistical data but which are not of regular shape (Table 1 ).

As can be seen, the North-West Region comprising Karelia, Leningrad and Murmansk Districts is the main producer of granite blocks in Russia, supplying around 2/3 of the nation´s total.

Currently there are five active granite quarries in Leningrad District, extracting 26,800 m3 of commercial blocks and 1,800 m3 of random granite blocks. In terms of quarrying equipment these quarries are on a similar level to those in Finland. They are equipped in the main with imported rock transporting vehicles, hydraulic drilling machines and diamond wire saws. More than 93% of blocks extracted in the District are of commercial standard. The granite quarries in Leningrad District provide an example of how technology and business in the sector should be maintained.

The Republic of Karelia is distinguished by a high volume of gabbro-diabase blocks extracted (34,800 m3 ) for the memorial trade. The extraction volume is continually increasing, and the materials are being distributed throughout practically all regions of the European part of Russia. This kind of business is the least affected by the global economic downturn, and only 32% of gabbro-diabase blocks extracted can be termed commercial.

The Urals Region produces some 26% of the granite blocks extracted in Russia. The most significant here are the Mansurov and Sibirsk quarries in Bashkiriya and Sverdlovsk District respectively, which extracted 17.800 m3 of blocks in 2008 – together 61% of the Urals production of granite blocks. In terms of their quarrying equipment, the Mansurov quarry operated by OAO Granit is the most advanced. Overall, around 32% of granite blocks quarried in Urals Region can be ascribed to the random category.

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