China's plan to lower mining fatalities

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/10/2007 03:26:00 PM
James Scott penned an (in)famous book in political science studies called Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. It catalogs the vast number of social engineering schemes effected by states over the years which have met with dubious results, from Soviet collectivization to the Great Leap Forward that did more harm than help. One thing that comes to mind from the genre is the current fiasco over the Three Gorges Dam. It's undoubtedly tempting for states, especially those where political-economic might is so concentrated like China, to try their hand at solving social problems by state diktat.

China's voracious appetite for energy has led to coal mines sprouting all over the country at an incredible clip. A new coal-fired plant is opened there every week. Coal is one of the energy sources which China has in relative abundance. When you have coal mines, you also need coal. In response to these (quasi-)market signals, small coal mining operations have sprung up which have been more concerned with extracting coal than with miner safety. Just recently, there was yet another large mining accident. Especially pernicious has been the proliferation of wildcat mines. What is China's proposed remedy to lessen these accidents and at the same time boost production? You guessed it--Chinese leadership wants to consolidate coal mining in the country under state-owned entities. Might this plan actually work? It does depend on whether the safety standards of state firms are better than those of smaller operators and if they are willing to spend more on safety improvements in existing mines. Have you seen my wife Mr. Zhu? In the event of something happening to me...From Xinhua:
China plans to restructure its coal industry by forming six to eight coal groups with each boasting a production capacity of 100 million tons by 2010 through mergers and acquisitions, according to a recent government document.

With the average output remaining low, China's coal companies need regrouping to make better use of their resources, said Pu Hongjiu, vice chairman of the China National Coal Association.

The country will also have another eight to ten coal groups with a production capacity of 50 million tons each, said the document jointly issued by five ministries including the National Development and Reform Commission.

These giant groups are expected to contribute more than half of China's coal output of 2.6 billion tons in 2010, it added.

The move comes in the wake of a nationwide campaign to close small coal mines, which account for one third of China's total production but two thirds of the deaths resulting from colliery accidents. In 2006, accidents in small coal mines claimed 3,431 lives.

China produced 2.4 billion tons of coal last year but production of its 80,000 coal companies averaged only 30,000 tons.

Large companies will have more resources by acquiring small ones, said Huang Qing, directorate secretary with Shenhua Group, which produced 203 million tons of raw coal last year to become China's first coal company to pass the 200-million-ton milestone.

The country's second largest coal producer, China National Coal Group, produced 90.6 million tons of coal last year. The document also encouraged mergers between companies from different regions and from different sectors such as coal, power and transportation.