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China: Number 1 Coal Fire Hotspot

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There are eight to ten regions on earth where significant coal and peat fires can be found. China is definitely number 1. This ranking has been based on the size, potential expansion and related damages and hazards amplitude attached to the fires of a considered country. The most important fires that are currently burning or smoldering in the countries are also detailed.

Coal fires in China spread in the entire coal belt, covering a zone measuring 5,000 kilometers from east to west and 750 kilometers from north to south, in the Northern part of the country.

Experts are currently focusing on three particularly critical regions:

In china coal fires have burned so far 10 to 20 million tons of coal, 100 to 200 million tons more can be considered as lost resources due to the hazards attached to their extraction; not mentioning the enormous emissions of green house gases and the massive air and water pollution.

Coal is strategically important for China, being a key asset in the growth potential of the country. Logically, China is at the cutting edge of the methodologies and of the technologies development for coal fires control. Despite some short term limited success, neither the Chinese experts nor the rest of the worldwide scientific community have succeeded in durably controlling this phenomenon.

Amongst the most significant coal fires in China deserve to be pinpointed the Queercou coal fire, the Song Hutou fire, the Rujigou coal field fire and the Wuda Coal field fire.

Queergou Coal Fire Area, Xinjiang

  • Cause: Auto combustion of coal in a mining area
  • Starting date: Unknown, probably centuries ago
  • Amplitude: 75,000 m2 are burning
  • Comment: There are 40 major coal mines in the area. The fire is progressing rapidly and can ignite large-scale wildfire at any moment. Ground temperature ranges from 181 to 273° Celsius. Steaming phenomenon, land subsidence and highly toxic emission are covering the whole region.

Song Hutou Fire Zone, Xinjiang

  • Cause: Auto combustion of coal in a mining area
  • Starting date: 15 years ago
  • Amplitude: 250,000 m2 with depth of 44 to 60 meters
  • Comment: 5 million tons of coal (300,000 tons per year) have been lost so far. Endangering access to 10 million tons more. Massive and highly noxious gases are released (SO2, Nitrogen and CO2).

Rujigou coal field, Ningxia

  • Cause: Unplanned mining
  • Starting date: Reported to have started sometimes during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
  • Amplitude: 7 coal seams are affected by a huge uncontrolled fire. The considered zone is 15 km long, 8 km wide and 20 m deep.
  • Comment: The Rujigou coal field is located in an arid mining region in the Helan Mountains at elevations between 1800 and 2500m above sea level. Such an environment makes the fire control operations very difficult, $53 million has been spent over the last decade with no visible result. The area has been strongly mined in the past, allowing the fire to propagate rapidly thanks to the numerous abandoned shafts and galleries.

Wuda Coal field, Inner Mongolia

  • Cause: Small scale unplanned mining and spontaneous combustion
  • Starting date: 1961. Coal mining in the area started in 1958.
  • Amplitude: 280,000 m2 are affected. 24 coal seams are on fire and cover a 10 km long, 4 km wide and 0,2 to 6 m deep zone.
  • Comment: The carbon monoxide level in Wuda is five times higher than the Chinese national standard level. The city of 130,000 people also suffers from acid rain due to high content of sulfur dioxide in the air. Due to this frequent acid rains, the American Embassy in China reports “The once green pastures of Eastern Inner Mongolia lately resemble a scene from the American Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Sand storms emanating these desertified grasslands have become an increasingly common irritant in Northern Chinese cities, and their effects have recently been felt as far away as Colorado” (in The Coming China Wars, from Peter Navarro, 2006, p.84)
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