A national energy programme has been unveiled to better equip large-scale coal mines to improve safety and ensure ample fuel supplies.
The National Development and Reform Commission said 13 designated national coal production bases are being planned for coal rich autonomous regions and provinces such as Shanxi, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia.
The production capacities of the areas, which have about 500 mines, are expected to eventually reach 1.3 billion tons, nearly 60 per cent of China's total production last year.
"The government aims to make some of the bases each produce at least 100 million tons every year to safeguard China's energy supply," said the commission's spokesman when unveiling the programme.
The bases include the Shenfu-Dongsheng coal zone, located along the boundary between Shaanxi Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in North China. It became China's first 100-million-ton coal production base last year.
Huang Shengchu, president of the China Coal Information Institute, told China Daily yesterday that the country faces demanding challenges in streamlining its coal industry and closing down small, dangerous pits. "The measures of setting up large-scale bases will help relieve the pressure," said Huang.
He said the programme aims to improve the technical standards of the mines and their efficiency in utilizing resources.
He also suggested that foreign investors, especially multinationals, should be allowed to enter the coal mining industry to help improve mining safety in the country.
"At least one or two bases out of the national conglomerates should be open to overseas investors," he said.
He said foreign companies in the field of mining were rich in safety management, which would help reduce the number of accidents. "We can also gather some experience in co-operatively mining coal from other resource-rich countries," said Huang.
Zhao Tiechui, vice-adminstrator of the State Administration of Work Safety, recently warned of excessive coal production capacity in China.
China would be able to produce 2.75 billion tons of coal annually after new facilities are put into operation in the next few years. In 2005, 2.15 billion tons of coal was mined, satisfying the country's demand.
Previous forecasts by a team in the administration predicted China's coal demand would be between 2.5-2.6 billion tons in 2010, due to the country's massive energy-saving campaign.
Coal accounted for 76 per cent of China's energy use in 2005. According to the team, that level is likely to reach up to 80 per cent after 2010.
"The current supply-demand situation has left us enough room to shut down poorly-equipped small coal mines," said Zhao.
By the middle of 2005, China had 24,000 small coal mines with annual production capacities ranging from 10,000-30,000 tons. They account for 70 per cent of the total number of coal mines in the country.
China plans to shut down 12,900 small pits before 2007 to improve the safety record of the industry.