Success through failure? Four Centuries of Searching for Danish Coal

Kristin Ranestad and Paul Richard Sharp in this new paper:

Natural resources, especially energy resources, are often considered vital to the process of economic development, with the availability of coal considered central for the nineteenth century. Clearly, however, although coal might have spurred economic development, development might also have spurred the discovery and use of coal. To shed light on this, we suggest that the case of resource poor Denmark, which spent centuries looking for coal, is

Specifically, we emphasize that the process of looking for coal and the creation of a natural resource industry in itself is important beyond the obvious dichotomy of haves and have-nots. We seek to understand this process and find that prices proved an important stimulus to coal surveys.

Apart from finding the natural resource, developing the entire ecosystem is as important:

In his analysis of natural resource exploitation and the growth of international business, Geoffrey Jones presents some common features that mining industries share, which should be stressed here, and all of which we touch on below. These include the importance of geology, the capital-intensity and high risk nature of their business, and, although there are important differences in their availability, the fact that most metals and minerals are sold on the world market (Jones, 2005: 45). He finds that mineral and metal surveys and mining have been risky businesses, which is related to the nature of their operation. The extension and composition of ores has often been difficult to know in advance and operational techniques have changed along the way. There have been many uncertainties related to such production and large capital investments have often been required. These, in turn, have involved uncertainties regarding costs, completion time and operational performance. As mineral deposits are located in remote places, and sometimes in rough terrain, challenges concerning infrastructure and logistics have also been common. Finally, fluctuations in prices represent another risk factor (Jones 2005: 52). In sum, capital, knowledge about the composition of ore, and the extension of the ore deposit; as well as relevant operational techniques and infrastructure to mine and process the ore need to be in place before rational mining can occur. 


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