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Mine Deaths Accelerate in China Over the Past Month

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14 July, 2008

Coal mining deaths, as well as recorded tragedies happening in iron ore and clay mining, shot up over the past month in China. Chinese authorities continue to be vigilant on mine managers and others when mining deaths occur. The State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) is quick to say that deaths are down this year over each of the past few years, with gas-control utilization procedures the reason.

The statistics, however, may point more to the fact that the Chinese government, as well as several coal-producing provinces, have embarked on an ambitious plan to close small-scale coal mines. China is in the process of closing 10,000 of 14,500 small mines. Indeed, For each one million tonnes of coal mined, the death rate at smaller mines is eight times the rate of state-owned mines or mines where multinationals are involved.

Overall, the death rate in the first half of 2008 fell to 1.05 for each one million tonnes of coal mined, compared to 1.485 in 2007, and 3.08 in 2005.

But since mid-June, and certainly coincidental to China then placing a cap on coal price increases to steady supplies, thus to avoid blackouts during the Olympic games, a rash of mining accidents have happened across several provinces. The biggest mine disaster of 2008 occurred on 13 June, when 34 miners perished at the Anxin mine in Shanxi Province, and the latest happened on 10 July when bolting sheered on an elevator, causing it to collapse with 11 miners aboard. That occurred at Jiyuan Mining Industries Co. in the central province of Henan.

The Anxin disaster near the Shanxi city of Xiaoyi occurred because of a major underground explosion caused by home-made explosives igniting inside a mine shaft. Fifty-eight miners were inside shafts at the time of the blast, nearly double the number that were supposed to be inside the mine. Anxin was working an area that was off-limits to mining.

Although Anxin is a licensed enterprise with authority to mine 90,000-tonnes-per-year, it was found that its annual coal output was estimated at 300,000 tonnes.

Chinese authorities arrested the mine owner, the mine’s legal representative, and two workers charged with responsibility for the explosives. Six municipal and township officials, all representatives of the local Communist Party committee, were also sacked due to their lack of oversight.

On 5 July, 21 miners died in the coal-rich Datong City area of Shanxi Province when a methane gas explosion struck. The owner of the colliery, Wujiu Coal Mine, was detained at the 150,000-tonne-per-year colliery. And four days earlier, on 1 July, 18 miners died when a shaft collapsed at state-owned Huisen Liangshuijing coal mine in Shaanxi Province. Sixteen workers died immediately, and two other miners died later from gas inhalation after being rescued.

From the mid-point of June, besides the major Anxin tragedy, at least 20 other coal miners died in recorded accidents, while multiple deaths occurred in two iron-ore mines, and in one clay mining operation.

On 17 June, at the Laojunmiao Coal Mine in Mulei County, part of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, five persons died and three were seriously injured in a mine cave-in. On 12 June in Hubei Province at the Tuya Coal Mine, seven miners died 700 metres underground when a gas explosion occurred. And on 13 June, flooding of mine shafts caused the deaths of eight workers employed underground by Yutian Coal Mining Ltd. in Ningwu County, Shanxi Province.

Freak accidents occurred in the iron-ore pits. On 25 June, 12 farmers were working an abandoned mine owned by Taochong Mining Co., part of the massive Ma’anshan Steel Group, when heavy rain caused the mine to collapse. This occurred in Fanchang, eastern Anhui Province. The illegal entrepreneur who was supervising the small-scale mining venture fled the area before he could be arrested.

On 17 June, in Guyang County of the Inter Mongolia Autonomous Region, seven miners died during a mine collapse at the mined-out iron ore pit of Julong Mining Co.

The disaster at the clay mine happened on 18 June near the Zhejiang Province capital city of Hangzhou, when six miners died due to flooding. Lax safety operating procedures was pinned as cause.

Coal powers nearly 75% of all of China’s energy needs. Coal prices in China have risen 70% over the first six months of 2008. The price increases are not extraordinary when compared to the overall global spike in coal price levels this year. But in China, with low inventories and insufficient supplies, the National Development and Reform Commission decided on 19 June to put a temporary cap on spot coal prices through the end of the end to prevent power blackouts. What effect this will have on safety in China’s notoriously deadly coal mines is anybody’s guess