Serious Mining Disaster Shortly After Safety Check. Vulnerability of China Coal Mine Supervision Exposed.

The roof of the Lijiagou coal mine collapsed on 12 January 2019, killing 21 miners. The mine is operated by Baiji Mining Co. Ltd., in the city of Shenmu, province of Shaanxi. It was confirmed on 13 January that only 66 of the 87 miners working inside were rescued alive. The incident attracted the attention of both local and the Central authorities and raises alarm particularly when the mine and those in the area were recently inspected by the Shaanxi Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau shortly before this incident. This calls into question the safety of miners and draws attention once again from the media.

Baiji Mining Co. Ltd., founded in 2003, applied to, and received approval from the Shaanxi Provincial Development and Reform Commission to develop the Lijiagou coal mine in 2007. According to information, the Ministry of Land and Resources (now known as Ministry of Natural Resources) promulgated the Notice on the Moratorium of Applications for Coal Mine Development between 2 February 2007 and 31 December 2008, which suspends new applications for mining rights across the nation. How Baiji Mining Co. Ltd. came to receive the approval is therefore questionable.

This is not the first mine incident in Shenmu. A roof collapse at the Huisen Liangshuijing mine in July 2008 took the life of 18 miners while a coal dust explosion killed 11 miners at the Liu Jiayu mine in January 2016. The investigation from both incidents pointed finger at the illegal corporate mining operations. It is not unreasonable to associate the Shenmu mine roof collapse may have also involves illicit operations.

The present mine is operated by the Shaanxi Lutai Energy Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of the Shandong Lutai Holding Group Co., Ltd. Shaanxi provincial authorities conducted safety inspections in 506 mines in the area in March 2017 and issued a rectification order to the Baiji Mining Co. Ltd. The general manager of Shaanxi Lutai Energy Technology Chu Xufeng said in an interview on December 2018 that the mine had passed the secondary safety production standardisation by the Shaanxi Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau in May, and the mine safety inspection by the Shenmu authorities on 31 October. It therefore comes as a surprise that such a serious incident takes place merely three months after the inspections were carried out.

Considering the proximity between the last inspection and the incident, it begs the question on the substance of such safety inspections and whether the incident involved any illicit mining operations, which are equally concerning. The China Mine Safety Supervision Bureau must look into whether the mines in the area are still safe to operate and ensure that similar accident will not take place again.