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Posted December 8 2011

Global Standards

Review Safety Records and Practices Before Allowing Chinese-Owned Coal Mines in B.C., Steelworkers Say

BURNABY - British Columbia must conduct a full inquiry into the mine safety standards of Chinese-owned coal mining companies before allowing them to operate in the province, says the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

Chinese-owned coal-mining ventures were among a number of initiatives announced following B.C. Premier Christy Clark's recent trip to China . Included in these initiatives is a proposed $1.36-billion investment by Chinese-owned companies to develop two new coal mines in northeast B.C., including the Gething coal property 25 kilometres south of Hudson's Hope, which has been explored since 1971. Three Chinese-owned firms formed a partnership called the Canadian Kailuan Dehua Mines Co. Ltd. to develop the mine.

However, China's horrific record of coal-mine disasters warrants a full-scale review of the safety records and practices of any Chinese-owned coal-mining companies seeking to invest in BC, said Stephen Hunt , the USW's Western Canada director.

"Chinese-owned coal mines have the worst safety record in the industry," Hunt said. "Anyone who takes even a brief look at China's record of mine explosions, cave-ins, floods and other disasters is alarmed to learn that we're now inviting Chinese-owned companies to run mines in this province."

In the past month alone, at least 100 Chinese coal miners died in reported mine accidents, Hunt noted.

On March 31, 2011 , B.C. Employment Minister Pat Bell was quoted in the Prince George Free Press , claiming that "domestic mines don't have the expertise" to run underground mines and Canadian companies "have walked away from these projects over the years because the notion of going underground would be intimidating for them."

In fact, Hunt said, the notion of going underground in a Chinese-owned coal mine should be intimidating for anyone. According to official statistics, 2,433 people were killed in coal-mining accidents in China last year - and that was down from 2,631 in 2009.

"It's particularly dismaying that B.C. cabinet ministers seem to think that Chinese-owned coal mines provide a good model for running safe underground coal mines," Hunt said.

Hunt said the Steelworkers are pleased the minister's statements were politely rebuffed by Pierre Gratton of the Mining Association of B.C., who noted that "Canadians are world leaders in mining, including underground mining…"

"I honestly don't think the Chinese coal mining industry has much to teach us about coal mine operation or mine safety," Hunt said. "Before we allow any new projects to proceed, we need to carefully review the principals and investors to see whether they have a good track record and to be sure they actually bring something of value to the table."

Chinese coal mine tragedies

News reports indicate at least 92 Chinese coal-mine workers have died in industrial accidents over the course of one month this year:

Oct. 30 , Xialiuchong Coal Mine, Hengyang, Hunan province, gas explosion, 29 dead
Nov. 3 , Yima Coal Mine Gp, Qunquin, rock burst, Coal Mine, Sanmenxia, Henan province, cave in, 10 dead
Nov.10, Sizhong Coal Mine, Quijong, Yunnan province, gas leak, 35 dead.
Nov. 16 , Yuanlin Coal Mine, Xianghuang Banner, 350 miles northeast of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia , cave in, at least 12 dead
Nov. 29 , Xinshan Coal Mine, Xinyu, Jiangxi province, lift malfunction, 6 killed

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