Spain had some of the most mineralized territory in Western Europe, including the volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VMS) deposits of the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB) of southern Spain. The IPB alone was estimated to have yielded 1.7 billion tons of sulfides, and more than 80 VMS deposits have been recorded in which individual tonnages were in excess of 1 million tons. Spain had the largest known reserves of celestite (Europe's sole producer, ranking second in world production, behind Mexico); was home to the richest mercury deposit in the world and one of the biggest open-pit zinc mines in Europe; and remained the leading producer of sepiolite, with 70% of world reserves (around Madrid). Spain was the largest EU producer of mine lead and zinc, and a major producer of pyrites, among other nonferrous and precious metals. Production far exceeded domestic consumption for most nonmetallic minerals, and Spain was a net exporter to other EU countries of lead, mercury, nonmetallic-mineral manufactured products, slate, other crude industrial minerals, and zinc. In terms of value, Spain was one of the leading EU countries, with one of its highest levels of self-sufficiency in mineral raw materials. Almost all known minerals were found in Spain, and mining was still a notable, though much diminished, factor in the economy—mining production in 2000 was at 91% of its 1990 level. Of the 100 minerals mined, 18 were produced in large quantities—bentonite, copper, fluorspar, glauberite, gold, iron, lead, magnetite, mercury, potash, pyrites, quartz, refractory argillite, sea and rock salt, sepiolitic salts, tin, tungsten, and zinc. Metals and chemicals were leading industries in 2002. The output of lead, zinc, and copper ores, all once important to the Spanish economy, has been declining. The number of active operations has halved in recent years, with copper production a notable casualty. Quarried mineral products, particularly quarried stone, accounted for a significant share of the value of all minerals produced.
Lead output was 51,000 tons in 2000 and 23,900 in 1997 (mainly from Jaén); zinc, 200,000 (Aznalcóllar, Lugo, Santander, and San Agustin); and copper, 23,312 tons (1,738 in 1999, and 37,002 in 1998). Germanium oxide, gold, silver, tin, titanium dioxide, and uranium also were mined. Navan Resources (Almagrera) Ltd. completed a capital works improvement program at Aguas Teñidas copper-lead-zinc mine, near Huelva, and was operating at the full 600,000-ton-per-year rate to help offset losses at its Almagrera Mine. Operations began in 2000 at the Carles gold deposit, with an expected rate of 600 kg per year—proven and probable reserves were 1.2 million tons with an average grade of 4.26 grams per ton of gold. The Los Frailes Mine, one of the biggest open-pit zinc mines in Europe, was closed in early 1998, after a large toxic spill; it restarted in mid-1999, and operated at a loss (its capacity was 3.5 million tons per year). The mercury-rich Almadén mines, which were at the heart of a long tradition of base-metal mining in Spain, were closed. Because of market conditions, iron mining was halted in 1997, after 588,000 tons (metal content) was produced in 1996. Iron ore was one of Spain's principal mineral assets, with 6 million tons of total reserves—in the north (Basque provinces, Asturias, León) and in Andalucía; the Alquife mine, in Granada, which was closed for maintenance, had a capacity of 4 million tons per year. Cambridge Mineral Resources PLC, of the United Kingdom, conditionally acquired three properties, of which two contiguous ones had advanced gold-enriched polymetallic deposits containing resources of 4.25 million tons at 5.76 grams per ton of gold, 116.9 grams per ton of silver, 1.58% copper, 1.48% lead, and 5.71% zinc in massive sulfides.
Among industrial minerals, Spain produced 9.97 million tons of marl, 8.7 million tons of dolomite (5 million tons in 1998),3.69 million tons of ornamental marble (2.7 million tons in 1998), 2.5 million tons of limestone, 750,000 tons of meerschaum sepiolite (the largest deposit had more than 15 million tons, but high freight costs reduced profitability), 750,000 tons (gross weight) of pyrites (including cuprous, from Huelva and near Seville), down from 1.04 million tons in 1996, 653,000 tons of potash (in Barcelona), and 266,000 tons of calcined magnesite (from deposits in Navarra and Lugo), up from 211,000 in 1999, and 150,000 in 1996. Spain also produced barite, bromine, calcium carbonate, hydraulic cement, clays (including attapulgite, bentonite, and washed kaolin), diatomite, tripoli, feldspar, fluorspar (acid-grade and metallurgical grade), gypsum, anhydrite, andalusite kyanite, hydrated lime and quicklime, mica, nitrogen, mineral pigments (ocher and red iron oxide), pumice, salt (including rock, marine, and byproduct from potash), silica sand (including as byproduct of feldspar and kaolin production), soda ash, natural sulfate (including glauberite and thenardite), large quantities of all stone (including basalt, chalk, ornamental granite, ophite, phonolite, porphyry, quartz, quartzite, sandstone, serpentine, slate), strontium minerals, sulfur, talc, and steatite.
Minerals belonged to the state, and the industry comprised a mix of state-owned, state-and-privately owned, and privately owned companies, and was moving rapidly toward privatization. The economic development of certain areas, such as the Asturias and the Basque regions, was based on their mineral wealth, and mining continued to be an important current and potential source of income in these and other mineral-rich areas. The independent government of Andalucía completed its first mining development plan (1996–2000). Several old and new prospects were being evaluated, and exploration activity was high, particularly for feldspar (in Badajoz, Toledo, and Salamanca), garnet (Galicia), pyrites (Badajoz), and rutile and zircon (Cuidad Real). The main polymetallic deposits included Tharsis, Scotiel, Rio Tinto, and Aznalcollar.