Into the deep

Why is China drilling down to 10,000 meters—one of the deepest holes in the world?

The world’s second largest economy is taking its deep-Earth exploration to new depths

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Natural gas burns from an oil well where a large metal structure rises over a leveled-out ground. Snowy mountains are in the distance.
An oil well at Tarim Oil Field, in Xinjiang, China.
Photo: China Out/China Newsphoto (Reuters)

China is embarking on a journey into the earthy unknown.

On Tuesday (May 30), the nation broke ground on its first borehole to tunnel 10,000 meters (32,808 feet) beneath the Earth’s crust, according to a Xinhua news report.

The borehole is located in the Taklamakan Desert, part of the resource-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region located in northwestern China.


The project will use equipment weighing 2,000 metric tons to break through 10 layers of continental strata, Xinhua reported. Eventually the borehole will burrow into the Cretaceous System, a stratified layer of rock that dates back to 145 million years ago. Completion of the project will take an estimated 457 days.


“The drilling of this 10,000 meter borehole is a bold attempt to explore the unknown parts of the Earth and expand the boundaries of human knowledge,” said experts involved in the project, as reported by the Global Times (link in Chinese).

The Kola Superdeep Borehole in northwest Russia currently holds the record as the deepest hole ever drilled on the planet, measuring 12,262 meters (40,230 feet) in depth.

Digging deep is part of China’s national security strategy

China is hungry for natural resources, including minerals and oil, both of which are abundant where the new borehole is located in Xinjiang. In January, China’s minister of natural resources, Wang Guanghua, highlighted the importance of sourcing raw materials and energy domestically to wean off foreign dependence.


“Once the international situation changes, it will inevitably affect my country’s economic security and even national security,” he said in an interview (pdf) with People’s Daily.

Aside from the potential to uncover natural resources, deep-Earth drilling could also equip China with a better understanding of seismic activity and natural disaster risks.


Deep-Earth exploration is just one area of strategic importance to China. In 2021, president Xi Jinping delivered a speech to the country’s scientific community outlining four areas in which to focus their efforts: deep Earth, deep sea, deep blue (meaning information technology), and deep space.

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