China has started digging a huge hole that will be more than 11,100 meters deep.

Work began last week in Taklamakan, the second largest dune desert in the world, located in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The hole will go through more than 10 continental layers and will reach strata dating back to the Cretaceous of the planet, between 145 and 66 million years ago, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

The project has an expected duration of 457 days in which the operators will handle more than 2,000 tons of equipment and machines.

An ambitious initiative

This is the largest excavation project in China, breaking the 10,000-meter mark with a well for the first time.

The Tarim oil well, also in the Taklamakan desert, is more than 9,000 meters deep. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

However, the hole China drills will not be the deepest man-made.

That record is held by the Kola super-deep wellbore in Russia, which took almost two decades to excavate until the 12,262 yards in the year 1989.

China’s initiative comes at a time when China is taking major steps in its consolidation as a global technological and scientific power.

Oddly enough, on the same day that work on the new water well, Beijing, began sent three astronauts to its orbital space station as part of its project to step on the moon before 2030.

But why drill a hole deeper than the height of Everest and close to the maximum flight altitude of a commercial aircraft?

the two purposes

The state-owned petrochemical company Sinopec, which is leading the project, stated its goal is to “pull the boundaries of depth” in geological research.

Work to drill the deepest hole in China began two years after the country’s president Xi Jinping urged the local scientific community to continue exploring the depths of the Earth’s crust.

Chinese state-owned oil sector companies are leading this project. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

“Drilling the well has two purposes: scientific research and find gas and oilsaid Lyu Xiaogang, representative of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the country’s largest oil and gas company and one of the largest in the world.

In an explanatory video, the official assures that the project will serve to bolster the technological capabilities of PetroChina (the CNPC-controlled business giant listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange) in deep excavation and new machinery manufacturing.

“To study the 10 kilometers closest to the surface, we usually use other techniques, such as seismic tomography and other types. Projects like this are very useful because they provide physical evidence to support this research,” Chilean geophysicist Cristian Farías, director of Civil Works and Geology at the Catholic University of Temuco, told BBC Mundo.

In addition, he assures, the China project “allows us to test the most innovative technological developments”, for which reason “it can open a very interesting period of exploration”.

natural gas and oil

With regard to the second objective, CNPC indicated that it is investigating new ones ultra-deep oil and gas fields in the northwest of the Asian country.

Hydrocarbon deposits at extreme subsurface depths – usually less than 5,000 meters – are mostly in marine areas, such as the oceans, where the rock and sediment layers are thicker, although they are also found in certain terrestrial areas, such as basins. sedimentary.

This is the case of the Tarim Basin, where the Taklamakan Desert is located, it can host large oil and natural gas reserves.

The Taklamakán Desert covers an area of ​​337,000 km2, an area larger than the territory of Ecuador. GETTY IMAGES Photo: BBC World

However, according to experts, its exploitation poses significant technical and technological challenges due to the difficult conditions of the subsurface, such as high pressure and extreme temperatures.

“And the stability of that hole is also a big challenge,” says Professor Farías

Although the former Soviet Union managed to go more than 12 kilometers deep, experts say reaching such low levels of the Earth’s crust remains extremely complex today.

“The difficulty of building this drilling project is like driving a big truck on two thin steel cablesSun Jinsheng, a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, illustrated in statements to the Xinhua agency.

In addition, the Taklamakan Desert is considered a difficult area to work in, with extreme temperatures dropping to -20ºC in winter and rising to almost 40ºC in summer.