Illegal coal mine encroaching on nature reserve in north-west China

Coalfield 14 times the size of the City of London turns alpine meadows into craters in Qinghai, Greenpeace investigation reveals

A Chinese coal company has been operating illegal open-pit mines in alpine meadows on the far-western Qinghai plateau, potentially endangering one of the countrys largest rivers, a new investigation has found.

Four opencast mines on the Muli coalfield, operated by the private corporation Kingho Group, could seriously endanger a fragile ecosystem high on Chinas far north-western Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, according to an investigation by Greenpeace East Asia released on Thursday. The coalfield is 14 times larger than the City of London, Greenpeace said. Two of its mines overlap with a protected nature zone, making them illegal, and another two are preparing to expand into the zone.

Chinas natural reserve law says you shouldnt be doing any large-scale operations within national parks, said Li Shuo, the organisations climate and energy campaigner. This is a clear violation.

Photographs taken by Greenpeace show alpine-green meadows suddenly falling off into massive black and ash-grey craters. Glacial melt from the Qilian mountains an 80 sq km protected zone abutting the coalfield runs directly into a tributary of the Yellow river, Chinas second-longest waterway.

The Muli coalfield is a growing cancer on an otherwise intact alpine ecological system, said the Greenpeace report. The opencast coal mining over years has destroyed the alpine meadows connecting the glaciers on the mountains and the plateau, cutting off the channel for rainfall and melt water to feed into rivers. As a result, the water-holding capacity of the landscape is significantly compromised.

The problem is rooted in Chinas reliance on coal, which accounts for approximately 70% of the countrys energy. As Chinas energy demand rises and levels of air, water, and soil pollution in the countrys overcrowded east become unbearable the central government is slowly shifting heavy mining and industrial operations to the countrys sparsely-populated west. Yet environmental groups say that authorities have not developed an adequate regulatory framework to keep the environmental impact of the new projects in check, creating a risk of mass water shortages and desertification.

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