Mining accidents in China to spike as country digs more coal

Coal mining accidents in China are likely to spike in the coming months as the nation, the world’s top producer and consumer, scrambles to mine and burn more of the fossil fuel, authorities have warned.

According to the country’s Work Safety Committee of the State Council, a government agency, the recent and sharp rally in coal prices has prompted an increase in potentially dangerous mining activity, which unfortunately it’s already taking its toll.

In the last week alone, seven miners have been killed and 22 others remain trapped, following two accidents in local coal operations, authorities said.

In the last week alone, seven people have been killed and 22 others remain trapped, following two accidents in local coal mines.

The first tragedy took place in a small mine located in a rural area of Jiangxi province, in southeast China, which was completely flooded on November 23.

While 14 workers were rescued, seven others remain missing, AAP reports. After a week of rescue attempts, the operation was cancelled on growing fears of a chance the work would trigger geological problems in the area.

In the other, most recent accident, which took place Tuesday night, 22 miners were trapped underground following a landslide at a mine in the city of Qitaihe in northeastern Heilongjiang province, a coal-mining region bordering Siberia. Rescuers were still working Wednesday evening trying to locate and save those trapped.

While China announced plans earlier this year to shut down more than 1,000 underperforming coal mines, soaring prices, tightening supply and the upcoming winter season have prompted Beijing to relax the measures. At the same time, hundreds of new coal plants are under construction.

“As coal prices go up, mines tend to go beyond the usual safety limits to get at the more ‘dangerous’ coal, and accidents increase,” Keegan Elmer, a researcher for the Hong Kong-based watchdog China Labour Bulletin, told WSJ.com.

Notoriously deadly mines

Official figures indicate that 171 people died last year in mining-related accidents in 45 operations across the country, significantly down from the 931 deaths reported in 2014, though government figures are often questioned for their accuracy.

Despite concerns about pollution, coal use in China remains strong, generating about three-quarters of the country’s electricity. Ambitious hydroelectric dam projects and the world’s largest program to install solar panels and build wind turbines haven’t been able to make a significant dent in China’s coal consumption. As a result, the sector generates more emissions than all the oil, coal and gas consumed in the US.