China’s coal industry has come roaring back since last year’s supply crunch saw Beijing prioritize energy security, but a recent spate of accidents is now ringing alarm bells.
Production of the fossil fuel in Asia’s largest economy is up markedly this year, but that’s come at a horrible cost. Some 129 coal miners have died in accidents in the first seven months of 2022, according to figures from the National Mine Safety Administration.
The administration is pledging to cut fatalities from all mining activities by 10% from current levels by 2025, it said in a plan released on Wednesday. It also asked companies to stick to a ban on new mines with output of less than 1.2 million tons a year in Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi, the top three coal-producing regions.
The mining deaths highlight the tough policy trade-offs that are necessary as China tries to find a balance between ensuring energy security, but also protecting workers and curbing pollution. They’re also a potential headache for President Xi Jinping as he seeks a third term at a crucial Communist Party congress later this year.
There’s been at least one accident a week since the start of July at mines in Shanxi, according to a report in China Coal News. In the most recent major incident, five workers were killed after a roof collapsed at a mine in the province last Friday, Beijing News said.
The push to favor bigger, more technologically advanced operations is an extension of existing policies that saw more than 5,000 smaller mines shuttered between 2016 and 2020, the administration said.
Mine safety is a long-standing problem in China and while deaths have declined in recent years, the upsurge in coal production means there’s a risk they will start rising again. The government is targeting an additional 300 million tons of coal output capacity this year after production rose to a record 4.1 billion tons in 2021.
Total mining fatalities dropped 24% in the first seven months of this year from the same period in 2021, administration figures show. It also pledged to carry out nationwide safety checks at the end of 2023 and 2025 to ensure the 10% target is met.
(With assistance from Dan Murtaugh)