I. Project Background
The Shendong mining area, located at the crossroads of Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, and Shanxi provinces, is among the thirteen large-scale coal bases that China has strategically planned and developed. The region bridges the Kubuqi Desert, the Mu Us Sandy Land, and the hilly ravines of the Loess Plateau, characterized by its arid climate, severe wind-driven erosion, and substantial soil loss. Its fragile ecosystem supports sparse vegetation that experiences a short growth season and a prolonged dormant period, resulting in a mere 3-11% vegetation cover. As a primary contributor to the sediment load in the Yellow River, it is a national priority for soil erosion monitoring and remediation.The CHN Energy Shendong Coal Group, affiliated with China Shenhua Energy Company Limited, began the development of the Shendong mining region in 1985. By 2005 and 2010, it had successively established production bases capable of producing one billion and two billion tons respectively. Simultaneously, it has been actively engaged in ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation efforts and accomplished ecological restoration across a span of 511 square kilometers, significantly increasing the vegetation cover to over 65% and greatly improving the area's biodiversity, sustainability, and stability.
II. Main Practices and Experience
The CHN Energy Shendong Coal Group's thirty-plus year journey of development and construction is also a chronicle of pursuing ecological conservation. The Group has steadfastly upheld the national ecological preservation policy, consistently pushed forward scientific and technological innovation, and remained committed to achieving long-term progress. In areas suffering from desertification, it has implemented extensive coal mining activities, carving a path that harmonizes energy security with ecological safety and accumulating a series of methods and experience.
(I) Strengthening ecological conservation and systematic management to establish a foundation for biodiversity in desert regions.
First, the Group actively implemented expansive, high-standard sand control measures. In the initial phase of mine development, the Group approached the issue from a holistic perspective of the mining area, focusing on the directly disturbed construction zone, the yet-to-be-exploited wellfield areas, and relevant areas outside the wellfield. Sand stabilization efforts were carried out across 103 square kilometers of mobile sand dunes, effectively curtailing the movement of sand within the region. This led to the establishment of an ecosystem mainly composed of grass, supplemented with shrubs and trees. Throughout the process, innovative techniques were utilized, including large-scale, low-cost sand willow grid technology for shifting sand dune management, sand management technology for semi-stabilized sandy areas by planting belt Artemisia, pioneer plant sand stabilization technology, desert afforestation technique with water bottles, and the technology for artificial regulation of vegetation succession direction and speed. Such measures led to the establishment of wind and sand control demonstration projects like the Batuta Sand Willow Base.
Second, the Group prioritized the execution of corridor-style evergreen forest watershed conservation projects. The CHN Energy Shendong Coal Group operates ten industrial factory areas and wellheads, distributed along the terraces on the banks of the Ulan Mulun River, where severe soil erosion plagues the adjacent mountains. At the beginning of mine construction, comprehensive soil and water conservation projects and evergreen forest planting initiatives were launched, which lead to the establishment of a 42-kilometer-long "two mountains and one bay" evergreen forest corridor and the planting of about 3 million evergreen trees. Among these, the Hongshiquan small watershed management project was recognized by the Ministry of Water Resources as a national demonstration project for ecological construction in soil and water conservation.
Third, the Group systematically executed comprehensive protection and governance encompassing mountains, water, forests, farmland, lakes, grasslands, and sand. Based on wind and sand control and soil and water conservation, and integrating the geological conditions of the mines, land reclamation management, prevention and control of three types of waste and noise pollution, and resource utilization, a holistic and systematic governance strategy was implemented across all mines and mining areas. Consequently, all mines have been transformed into green mines. Notably, the Halagou Ecological Base was honored by the Ministry of Water Resources as a National Soil and Water Conservation Ecological Civilization Project, the Daliuta Technology Demonstration Park was recognized by the Ministry of Water Resources as a National Soil and Water Conservation Technology Demonstration Park, and the Buertai Green Mountains and Clear Waters Innovation Base was included as a notable case by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
(II) Enhancing Green Mining and Technological Innovation to Develop Innovative Biodiversity Models in Coal Mining Subsidence Areas.
First, a new biodiversity model centered on combined wind, water, and gravity erosion has been developed. The Shendong mining area experiences significant subsidence due to the extensive and high-volume extraction of shallow coal seams, characterized by loess lands and sandy terrains. This results in 'triple-threat' erosion from wind, water, and gravity, leading to severe soil erosion. Comprehensive soil and water conservation measures were implemented on loess hills, gullies, and sandy hillocks, successfully reducing the regional water erosion rate from 2500t/km2 per year to 1000t/km2 per year and increasing the soil conservation rate from 67% to 75%."
Second, a new biodiversity model rooted in the symbiotic relationship among animals, plants, and microorganisms has been invented. Given the harsh conditions of the Shendong mining area such as aridity, barren soil, and vegetation damage due to surface subsidence, Shendong initiated a collaboration with the China University of Mining and Technology (Beijing) in 2008. This partnership involved research and trials on pivotal microbial reclamation technologies, establishing over 20 microbial reclamation test zones including species like the Pinus sylvestris, Platycladus orientalis, and Amorpha fruticosa. Suitable arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi were selected from local soil and cultivated, then inoculated into the plant root system. This approach enhanced the plants' capacity to absorb soil moisture and nutrients, repaired root damage, and resulted in an increase of over 10% in both plant survival rate and growth. Current initiatives include development of plant pruning and crushing return-to-field technology, with plans for integrated grass-algae-livestock technology research in Buertai by 2023.
Third, a new biodiversity model based on subsidence areas, desert zones, and photovoltaic panel-induced stress habitats has been innovated. The Group has established a 500,000-kilowatt photovoltaic and 40,000-acre ecological governance project in the Buertai subsidence area. Based on the comprehensive management techniques for subsidence areas and desertification prevention technologies, the Group conducted research into new economically viable species like alfalfa and feed mulberries under the photovoltaic panels, developing innovative cultivation technology and modes for alfalfa, feed mulberries, and sea buckthorn. The innovative technology and modes have effectively solved the challenges of weak light intensity under the panels and the selection of economic plants. A collaborative model for land transfer in subsidence areas, ecological governance and industrial development, and photovoltaic industrial development has been innovated, benefiting the land, businesses, and local community.
(III) Strengthening Monitoring, Evaluation, and Systematic Management to Establish a Regional Biodiversity Demonstration.
First, a biodiversity monitoring model based on an integrated ecological and environmental monitoring system has been created. In 2022, the Halagou Ecological Base was designated as a monitoring station by the Ministry of Water Resources. This station is part of the national project for optimizing soil-water conservation monitoring station and is currently under construction to become a national general station for monitoring water and wind erosion. The Shendong Halagou coal mine has been set as a monitoring demonstration site by the Department of Natural Resources of Shanxi Province. This site is a significant part of a dynamic monitoring system being established at provincial, city, county, and mining company levels. The first phase of the demonstration project has been completed, and the second phase is expected to be fully operational by the end of July. Shendong has established an integrated ecological monitoring system based on '5 Elements 5 Bases', starting from the perspective of compliance, legality, and exemplification, which incorporates the monitoring requirements of the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and the Ministry of Natural Resources. This system, after systematically reviewing and analyzing 130 norms and nearly 3500 monitoring indicators, develops a set of common indicators, comprised of 364 sub-indicators in 5 major categories (15 subitems): base, water, air, soil, and ecology. Utilizing advanced 'Five Bases' monitoring methods, namely, satellite-based, drone-based, tower-based, vehicle-based, and ground-based, comprehensive surveillance has been carried out in all areas.
Second, a biodiversity model demonstration based on integrated protection and systemic management of the mining ecological environment has been established. The Group has demonstrated a new biodiversity model that combats the composite erosion from wind, water, and gravity. It has carried out projects for artificial promotion of natural restoration, wind and sand control, water conservation, protection of native plants, and geological environment remediation. Demonstrations of a new biodiversity model have also been implemented that promotes a symbiotic relationship among animals, plants, and microorganisms. It has undertaken integrated grass-livestock, microbial land reclamation, microalgae liquid irrigation, plant pruning and crushing return-to-field projects, and so forth. Finally, the Group has developed a new biodiversity model based on subsidence areas, desert zones, and photovoltaic panel-induced stress habitats. Projects for comprehensive management of subsidence areas, desertification control, and forage grass planting under photovoltaic panels have been carried out.
Third, a biodiversity research demonstration based on scientific research, popular science education, and botanical garden construction has been created. Relying on the Halagou National Science Education Base and Ecological Botanical Garden, designated observation stations and observation zones for plants and animals have been established. Environmental monitoring and animal and plant observation equipment have been installed to carry out a series of long-term biodiversity observations and research. An in-depth biodiversity conservation science education program has been developed, with plans to build a national case database and a data sharing point for autonomous regions or city district ecological monitoring and biodiversity protection. In 2023, plans are underway to establish the Shendong Mining Area Biodiversity Demonstration Base. Based on differences in site conditions and vegetation types, four biodiversity observation plots of about 50 square kilometers each will be established in the Shangwan, Halagou, Liuta, and Cuncaota mining areas. Biodiversity observation equipment, online transmission equipment, and sample area fences will be installed to track changes in biological elements, environmental factors, and threat factors. The completion of the biodiversity baseline survey and assessment for the four major sample areas will further enhance the diversity, stability, and sustainability of the Shendong mining area's ecosystem.
III. Achievements in Conservation
After more than three decades of development, construction, and management, the CHN Energy Shendong Coal Group commissioned the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences in 2021 to conduct a comprehensive survey and evaluation of biodiversity in the Shendong mining area.
First, a biodiversity conservation area spanning 511 square kilometers has been established. In the base, there has been a 10.3% increase in grasslands, a 15.4% increase in forest areas, and a 53.6% reduction in desert terrain. The diversity of plant species has blossomed from a mere 16 to an impressive 134, transforming the original single native sand-vegetation type into 17 types of communities within four vegetation groups: grassland, shrub, broad-leaved forest, and coniferous forest. The structural composition of these communities has evolved from a single herb layer to a fully integrated structure featuring trees, shrubs, and grasses. The Shannon-Wiener index (1.697), evenness index (0.595), and Simpson's index (0.689) have all significantly improved from pre-restoration levels. The survey identified 35 species of wildlife, which include the nationally protected Class I species such as the black stork and larus relictus, along with Class II species such as the Platalea leucorodia and whooper swan.
Second, a catalog of the flora and fauna within the Shendong mining area has been compiled. The animal catalog encompasses 36 species across 31 genera and 20 families. This includes 20 mammalian species, from 17 genera and 12 families, and 16 bird species from 14 genera and 8 families. Each entry in the catalog provides detailed information on systematic classification, morphological features, lifestyle habits, habitats, domestic distribution, conservation status, endangerment level, scientific research value, and visual images. The plant catalog includes 134 species from 96 genera and 32 families, spanning 4 gymnosperms, 130 angiosperms, 107 herbaceous plants, 18 shrubs, and 9 trees. Each entry details systematic classification, morphological features, reproductive traits, habitat attributes, domestic and mining area distribution, economic and scientific research value, and visual images.
Third, an innovative set of methods for the monitoring and evaluation of biodiversity, as well as experience and techniques for biodiversity conservation have been developed and summarized. The Shendong coal base is a representative model for energy security and the protection of diverse ecosystems within the Yellow River Basin in large-scale coal mining areas in western China. Shendong has established a foundation for biodiversity, introducing three innovative biodiversity models respectively based on combined wind, water, and gravity erosion, symbiotic relationships among animals, plants, and microorganisms, and a composite of subsidence areas, deserts, and photovoltaic panel-stressed habitats. It has developed three demonstrations respectively on biodiversity monitoring, pattern, and research, and formed a set of holistic biodiversity monitoring, evaluation methods, and techniques for comprehensive management of environmental indicators that can potentially be adopted on a larger scale.