China is currently the world's largest coal producer
and consumer. It depends on coal for about 75 percent of its annual
energy production and consumes about half the world coal production.
The estimated total reserves amount to 115 Gt in China. In 1997
it produced around 1.3 Gt of hard coal (World Coal Institute,
December 1998). Between 100 and 200 Mt of high quality coal is
consumed by spontaneous combustion
every year. This amounts to approximately five to ten times of
the Chinese annual export. The fires are so extensive that they
produce about 2-3% of the total world carbon dioxide production
due to fossil fuels.
China's very rich coal reserves are widely distributed across
the country. However, fires are also widespread, stretching across
the north of the country in a band that has a total length of
5000 kilometres and a width of 700 kilometres. Some of them have
an extent for 20 kilometres. Others reach up to a depth of 100
meters. Some of Chinese coal fires have been dated to the Pleistocene
Era. This map showing the
distribution of coal fires in North China gives an idea of
the extent of the problem of coal fires in China.
Because there are so many fires spread over such a vast area, detecting
the fires is a major problem, especially as many of them occur
in isolated areas, high in the mountain, in deserts and other