Chinese miners have drilled a record seven-km-deep borehole — the deepest ever dug by a Chinese company on the Tibetan plateau — in the latest push by the government to accelerate the search for oil and minerals on the untapped but energy-rich “roof of the world.” Chinese geologists have said the secretive project, about which little has been reported in state media and whose exact location in Tibet remains unknown, is part of a wider push to “lessen the country’s dependence on oil imports,” the South China Morning Post reported.

“Tibet’s altitude and geology make it among the world’s most difficult drilling locations. Fragmented structures prone to collapse increase the risks,” Li Haibing, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences who has led drilling projects in Tibet, told the newspaper.

Mr. Li said the government was “reviewing a proposal for a new deep-earth project” to drill wells as deep as 10 km.

China’s energy giants Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have both carried out exploration projects on the Tibetan plateau, the newspaper said, with the latter estimating the oil reserves of the Qiangtang basin in central Tibet at 10 billion tonnes or 70 billion barrels.

Besides energy reserves, the plateau is also said to hold among China’s biggest reserves of copper, iron, gold and other minerals.

China’s moves to expand mining on the resource-rich plateau have, however, stirred opposition from many Tibetans, both in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in Tibetan areas of neighbouring Sichuan and Gansu provinces.

Only in December, three Tibetans were handed jail-terms up to 13 years after protesting mining activities in Nagchu in the central TAR, according to rights groups.

In May last year, hundreds were reported to have protested mining activities in Driru, while in August a man was reported to have been shot in clashes that erupted following a protest in Markham, rights groups said.

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