An open-pit coal mine in heavily polluted Inner Mongolia. (Photo by Herry Lawford.)

An explosion of gas at a coal mine in Panzhihua, southwest China, has killed at least 19 miners and trapped 28 others. From the BBC:

The blast happened on Wednesday evening when about 150 miners were underground, city officials said.

By Thursday morning, more than 100 people had been rescued and taken to hospital, reports said.

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Chinese state television said rescue teams had retrieved the bodies of 16 miners who died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Another three people died in hospital. …

Accidents are frequent in China’s mining industry, which is criticized for poor safety standards.

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Official figures show that 1,973 people died in coal mining accidents in the country last year.

China has a coal problem. According to a report from May of this year, the country represents 48 percent of global coal consumption [PDF], with coal use growing rapidly.

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That consumption has meant much higher carbon emissions but also much greater demand for water, as noted in this report from Agence France-Presse on a Greenpeace study.

To meet that demand, the country is importing more and more coal from the United States, though it contains the world’s third-largest coal reserves. Since 2000, annual coal production in the country has tripled — meaning more mines and faster extraction.

Accidents are always preventable. But accident prevention is rarely a company’s first priority — particularly when the company is under pressure to produce.