Coal, which built a Chinese city, now threatens to bury it

Yifu Dong, Financial Review, 7th October

The West Open Mine, which produced 18.3 million tons of coal in 1962 but now yields fewer than 3 million a year, in Fushun, China, Sept. 26, 2015. As the coal mines here near depletion, wind down operations and shed jobs, decades of destructive mining techniques are causing frequent landslides that threaten to sink the city of Fushun, one of many so-called coal capitals in the country.

The West Open Mine, which produced 18.3 million tons of coal in 1962 but now yields fewer than 3 million a year, in Fushun, China, Sept. 26, 2015. As the coal mines here near depletion, wind down operations and shed jobs, decades of destructive mining techniques are causing frequent landslides that threaten to sink the city of Fushun, one of many so-called coal capitals in the country. New York Times
The descent into the pit was steep, and the car skidded down a bumpy serpentine road.

“The road is supposed to be smooth, but last night’s storm and the following landslides make it so rough,” said Cui Yuan, 44, who as the head of the Fushun Geological and Environmental Monitoring Station is in charge of monitoring the landslides, which leave the road littered with coal byproduct.

Toward the bottom of the pit, a decrepit four-story building slanted at a dangerous angle. Half of the tall, thin pillars supporting the conveyor belts that transport coal to the surface were tilted precariously.

The few miners at Fushun’s West Open Mine, the largest open coal mine in Asia, were not mining coal but clearing roads blocked by landslides and putting out coal fires, which erupt spontaneously when buried coal is exposed to air for the first time in millions of years.

Buildings immersed in water near the West Open Mine.

Buildings immersed in water near the West Open Mine. New York Times

The city of Fushun, one of many so-called coal capitals of China, is struggling. Two-thirds of its estimated 1.5 billion tons of coal has been mined, and today the mineral that helped turn the city into a booming metropolis of 2.2 million threatens to bury it.

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