By Karah Rucker (Reporter), Jack Aylmer (Producer)
Scientists in China have embarked on an ambitious project to dig the deepest hole ever attempted in the country. The hole is 32,808 feet in depth, and in the country’s oil-rich Xinjiang region. The initiative aims to pierce through 10 different layers of rock and could potentially uncover signs of life.
This endeavor, estimated to take over a year to complete, has several objectives, including gathering data on the Earth’s internal structure, testing China’s deep underground drilling machinery, and locating oil and gas reserves.
“The construction difficulty of the drilling project can be compared to a big truck driving on two thin steel cables,” Sun Jinsheng, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said.
As the project delves into the Cretaceous system, which dates back up to 145 million years, there is a possibility of discovering traces of living organisms. Previous deep Earth explorations have yielded microscopic fossils in rocks over two billion years old.
This more than six-mile-deep drilling endeavor aligns with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for progress in deep Earth exploration, comments the leader made while addressing some of the nation’s leading scientists in 2021.
The project could be instrumental in identifying valuable mineral resources essential for various technologies, and may also contribute to assessing environmental risks such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, two areas of significant interest for China.
China currently holds a dominant position in the global rare earth mineral market, accounting for approximately 61% of its production, despite sitting atop only 35% of the world’s reserves.
Expanding its supply of these resources would strengthen China’s position in this multi-billion dollar industry.
Meanwhile, China faces increasing natural disaster risks due to rapid urbanization and population growth. Understanding these impending disasters better could help conserve resources and mitigate damages.
The country has already incurred over $133 billion dollars in damages from natural disasters during the 2020s alone, according to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.
Currently, the deepest man-made hole on Earth is Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole, which reached a depth of 40,230 feet in 1989 after two decades of drilling. However, China’s latest endeavor may ultimately aim to surpass that record.