A bold project hailed by Chinese state media as “a landmark in China’s deep-Earth exploration” has begun. The project aims at studying areas of the planet deep beneath the surface and involves drilling China’s deepest borehole.
The Chinese leadership also likely hopes this initiative will unearth rich mineral and energy resources in the oil-rich region.
The drilling is being carried out in the Tarim basin in the hinterland of the Taklamakan Desert, located in the north-western region of the country, Xinjiang.
Scientists are expected to penetrate more than 10 continental strata as the drilling is planned to reach a depth of 11,100 metres, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency.
To do so, they will use an 82-metre-high tailor-made automatic drilling rig weighing more than 2,000 tonnes and able to sustain up to 200C in temperature and high atmospheric pressure.
The project is expected to be completed in around 15 months. By then, scientists believe they will have reached the cretaceous system in the Earth’s crust, a group of stratified rocks dating back as far as 145 million years ago.
The project is being led by the country’s leading oil and gas producer – China National Petroleum Corporation.
If successful, the deep exploration well will give scientists the possibility to study the internal structure and evolution of the planet as well as provide data for geoscience research, the organisation said in a statement.
This deep-Earth exploration is part of China’s efforts to explore new frontiers both in space and below the surface of the planet, championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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Separately, Mr Xi had also stressed the importance to boost domestic energy supplies.
In another push for the search of natural resources within the nation’s borders, Wang Guanghua, China’s minister of natural resources, said in January the country must plan ahead to “ensure domestic resource security” when facing “special circumstances” such as geopolitical tensions.
The Tarim Basis has proven to be a good place where to search for natural resources.
Huang Shaoying, an engineer from the Institute of Exploration and Development at Petrochina Tarim Oilfield Company, told local media in mid-May: “The proven oil and gas reserves in the Tarim Basin are equivalent to more than 5 billion tons, and the current exploration rate is only about 32 per cent.”
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Scientists taking part in the project are facing a major challenge. Sun Jinsheng, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told Xinhua: “The construction difficulty of the drilling project can be compared to a big truck driving on two thin steel cables.”
Difficulties aren’t represented just by the atmospheric pressure 1300 higher than at surface level or the heat that will be found in the depth of the planet – but also by the harsh environment surrounding scientists.
The desert where the hole is being created is the largest and driest entirely located within China’s borders.
The Chinese researchers taking part in this project will attempt to make history by trying to excavate the borehole in 457, as it would be the fastest time ever recorded for the digging of a whole deeper than 10,000.
However, Russia currently holds the record for the deepest human-made hole, having excavated 12,262 metres to create the Kola Superdeep Borehole.
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