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Greater Investment for Coal Mine Safety

The Chinese government will invest 2.2 billion yuan (US$265 million) next year to enhance safety in the nation's coal mines.

The funds will help to improve the release of deadly methane gas, allowing it to drain deep from below underground coal beds through discharge systems.

The improvements are a bid to better use the methane as an energy resource rather than dispose of it into the air where causes global warming. The gas also causes deadly explosions, a frequent problem throughout China.

This year's investment for the same purpose totaled 2 billion yuan (US$240 million), according to Fan Weitang, chairman of the China National Coal Association, who spoke yesterday at the opening of the Third International Methane and Nitrous Oxide Mitigation Conference in Beijing which will conclude on Friday.

Methane, as well as nitrous oxide, are two greenhouse gases that are considered responsible for heating up the earth's atmosphere.

Although the concentration of methane and nitrous oxide in the air is far less than that of carbon dioxide, their greenhouse effects are 20 to 300 times that of carbon dioxide, respectively, Fan said.

However, methane is different from carbon dioxide because it is also a form of energy, he said.

Reducing methane is therefore one of the most important and economic measures that can improve the environment while aiding economic development.

In another move, officials said 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) in treasury bonds have been allocated this year to help some 1.2 million rural families develop methane ponds.

Gao Shangbin with the Ministry of Agriculture released that figure at the conference yesterday.

Gao said methane ponds gather human and animal waste and generate methane gas for daily use, such as cooking. Residue of the waste can continue to be used as fertilizer.

According to Gao, there are 11 million rural families in China using methane ponds with each pond generating some 200 to 300 cubic meters of methane per year.

"Climate change levies a great impact on China's agriculture and poses threats to food security. So the ministry attaches great importance to research on the reduction of greenhouse gases," he said.

According to Fan, the output of coal in China reached 1.3 billion tons last year and will surpass 1.5 billion tons this year. With that growth, coal-bed methane discharges also increase.

Surveys done by the United Nations Development Program and the US Environmental Protection Agency estimate that the annual coal-bed methane emissions in China stand at 12 billion cubic meters.

In comparison, only about 1.1 billion cubic meters of coal-bed methane in China was taken out through drainage systems last year. The amount was 16.9 percent more than that in 2001, Fan said.

The Chinese government has considered coal bed methane a spare energy resource after oil and natural gas and has designed preferential policies for the development of coal bed methane, he said.

For example, projects that drain and make use of coal-bed methane can be exempt from income tax for five years.

(China Daily November 18, 2003)

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