SHENZHEN (ResourceInvestor.com) -- 33 miners died in an underground explosion at Xinsheng Coal Mine, Henan province on November 11. Another blast in October at another mine took 147.
The latest accident came as the Countrywide Coal Mine Safety meeting was taking place in Beijing. The meeting was organized by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) and State Administration of Coal Mine Safety (SACMS). Participants were mainly coal mine safety officials from all the major coal mines in China.
After the blast, the municipality of Pingdingshan city, where Xinsheng Coal Mine is located, ordered all the nearly 400 local coal mines to stop production for a week to allow inspection of mines and facilities.
The accidents are being blamed on short-cuts caused by demands for higher productivity in an environment where regulatory adherence is sketchy.
Coal is the country's primary fuel source representing 70% of Chinese energy consumption. It is estimated that the annual output of local coal mines in 2004 will exceed 1.9 billion tons, but they simply cannot keep up with booming demand.
The approach of winter and general coal reserve shortage in Northern provinces have made coal especially valuable, continually pushing the price up. The price of class one coal for civil use in October reached 220 Yuan per ton with a 50 Yuan jump per ton compared with September.
Sustained high oil prices are one element causing the high coal price. The other is the coal overdraft in summer when the country suffered from severe electricity shortages.
The high prices have caused miners to pull out all the stops irrespective of the size or government/private status of the mine. Many were already running at full capacity and some are now exceeding design capacity which has safety implications at mines with already shaky records.
Daping Coal Mine, which is a major state-owned low gas mine with annual output of 1.3 million tones, had 400 miners working underground when the Oct 20th blast occurred. "It is absolutely impossible to accommodate so many miners in such a mine!" said a coal exploration expert at the accident scene.
According to the coal research report published by the SAWS and SACMS at the end of 2003, the 6,434 death toll from coal mine accidents is quadruple that of other main coal producing countries. The mortality rate in million-tonne production mines is 200 times that of the US (in 2002) and 12 times that main rival India.
"The death toll official publicized is far less than the real number. Disguised or fabricated notifications are frequent. The real number may reach 10,000,"Huang Teng, a researcher from industry consultants Changzi Consulting said. Officials and owners of coal mines tended to try their best to hide accidents to avoid legal repercussions.
Researchers say not only is safety lacking, but overall mine planning and scheduling in China is chaotic.
One statistic in the report reveals that there are nearly 30,000 coal mines in China - more than the aggregate of all other primary coal producing countries. Many are "mini-mines" that subcontract much of their work and are in many respects artisanal mines with very crude conditions.
The Xinsheng blast is still under investigation and officials running the Daping Coal Mine have not been sanctioned.