China aims to put out 50-year-old coal fires

One of the world’s less noticed ongoing ecological catastrophes, the underground coal fires that have been roaring in Northern China since the early 1960s. burn somewhere between 20 million and 200 million tons of coal per year. Spread out over nearly 10 miles, the fires, initially caused by poor mining practices but not helped by ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
China Photos/Getty Images
China Photos/Getty Images
China Photos/Getty Images

One of the world's less noticed ongoing ecological catastrophes, the underground coal fires that have been roaring in Northern China since the early 1960s. burn somewhere between 20 million and 200 million tons of coal per year. Spread out over nearly 10 miles, the fires, initially caused by poor mining practices but not helped by the area's arid climate, are also a major source of toxins and greenhouse gasses. The Inner Mongolia region where these fires are located are launching  a new effort to get them under control:

The regional government has earmarked an annual financing of 200 million yuan ($29.3 million) from 2009 to 2012 for fighting the fires, Ya said.

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.

One of the world’s less noticed ongoing ecological catastrophes, the underground coal fires that have been roaring in Northern China since the early 1960s. burn somewhere between 20 million and 200 million tons of coal per year. Spread out over nearly 10 miles, the fires, initially caused by poor mining practices but not helped by the area’s arid climate, are also a major source of toxins and greenhouse gasses. The Inner Mongolia region where these fires are located are launching  a new effort to get them under control:

The regional government has earmarked an annual financing of 200 million yuan ($29.3 million) from 2009 to 2012 for fighting the fires, Ya said.

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.

If it works, maybe they can tackle Turkmenistan’s pit of flame next

Joking aside, China’s rapidly explanded coal industry is not only an ecological disaster but a human one as well. China accounts for just 35 percent of the world’s coal output, but 80 percent of coal-mining fatalities. Even with recent countrywide safety improvements, around seven Chinese coal miners are killed every day

Hat tip: Treehugger

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: China

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