The China National Petroleum Corporation has begun drilling a borehole to a depth of 11,100m in the Taklamakan Desert, a region rich in mineral deposits and oil. 

Located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in north-western China, the borehole will reach as deep as the Cretaceous System – a layer of rock dating back 145 million years. Drilling commences amid a governmental push for domestically sourced natural resources. 

It is expected to take 457 days for the project to drill though ten layers of continental strata. Operations began on 30 May, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua

The main oil-producing zone of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Tarim basin, is located 8,000m below the Earth’s surface. The basin is the largest oil and gas-bearing area in China. 

The borehole will be the deepest in China and among the deepest in the world. The record is currently held by the Kola Superdeep Borehole located in north-west Russia, with a depth of 12,262m. 

Chinese resource exploration 

The Chinese Government has been investing heavily in resource exploration projects. In April, the Ministry of Natural Resources announced that 49,267 hectares of land will be developed for various projects to ensure resource security. This is a 51.7% increase compared with the same period last year. 

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Those involved with the drilling operation told the Global Times that “the drilling of this 10,000 metre borehole is a bold attempt to explore the unknown parts of the Earth and expand the boundaries of human knowledge”. 

In 2021, President Xi Jinping outlined deep-Earth exploration as an area of strategic scientific exploration for China. However, given the location of the borehole, it remains most likely to be an industrial oil drilling project, according to University of Potsdam geologist Edward Sobel, speaking with the New Scientist. 

The Chinese Government seeks to develop strong domestic production of critical minerals and other natural resources. 

Speaking in January with People’s Daily, Wang Guanghua, China’s Minister of Natural Resources said that “mineral resources are an important material basis for economic and social development, and the exploration and development of mineral resources is related to the national economy, the people’s livelihood and national security.  

“Some of my country’s important mineral resources are highly dependent on foreign countries. Once the international situation changes, it will inevitably affect my country’s economic security and even national security,” he went on.