After Burning for 50 Years, Chinese Coal Fires May Finally Be Extinguished

Fire in Rujigou coalfield in China. Photo: Anupma Prakash
The Coal, The Coal is on Fire, Let the...
China has the worst underground coal fires on Earth. These fires, which have sometimes been raging out-of-control for decades, destroy as much as 20-200 million tons of coal each year (nobody knows the exact number), which is more than Germany's entire annual coal production. Inner Mongolia, which is a part of China and not to be confused with Mongolia, is China's biggest coal-producing region (637 million tonnes of coal just last year), and it's also #1 when it comes to massive coal fires. What can be done?

underground coal fire seam image

Image: Creative commons
Imagine if the BP Oil Spill Went on for 50 Years
In Inner Mongolia, many underground coal fires have been burning since 1962. Over 10 square miles constantly smoldering, releasing lots of toxins and greenhouse gases. Most of the fires were caused by bad mining practices.

The local authorities are finally doing something about the coal fires. Their latest plan allocates 200 million yuan ($29.3 million) a year from now until 2012. If all goes well, they should be able to extinguish about half of the fires. No word on what's going to happen to the other half.

According to a harnessing plan, coal threatened by fire hazards is to be dug away to stop fires from spreading, while the fires are to be covered by sand. Other materials such as slurry are also pumped to help extinguish fires underground.

Digging coal. Using sand. Doesn't sound too sophisticated. Why wasn't this done decades ago? It's all a huge waste of energy. The way I see it, coal should stay in the ground, but if you're going to burn it, at least do something useful with it...

China Inner Mongolia map image

Inner Mongolia, shown in red here, is a Mongol autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. Image: Public domain
Underground Coal Fires Still Small Potatoes Compared to Coal Power Plants
But the coal seam fires are just one facet of a bigger problem. As Alex mentioned in a previous post, "according to the report, by Greenpeace, the Energy Foundation and WWF: coal is the source of 70% of the country's energy, 85% of China's sulphur dioxide emissions, 67% of its nitrogen dioxide emissions, 80% of its carbon dioxide emissions, and creates 25% of China's waste water. China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, killing an average of 13 miners a day."

This last part about the miners is very important. So many avoidable deaths...

See also: What Are The Top 10 Coal-Burning Countries on the Planet? Who's #1?

Via Xinhua
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