Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coal policy advisory committee to keep options open for open-pit, shaft mining

The Daily Star, September 23, 2007

A 12-member coal policy advisory team held a review meeting yesterday following its visit to Barapukuria coalmine, Phulbari and Dighipara the day before. The team will advice the government on framing the national draft coal policy, according to sources at Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd (BCMCL).

Mineral and Resources Department of Petrobangla formed the committee headed by Abdul Matin Patwari, former vice-chancellor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) to help it finalise a draft national coal policy. Other members of the committee are Prof Nazrul Islam, chairman of Bangladesh University Grants Commission (UGC); Maj. Gen. Ismail Faruk Chowdhury, defence representative; Prof Nurul Islam, director of Institute of Appropriate Technology (IAT); Prof Badrul Imam, head of geology department of Dhaka University; journalist Ataus Samad; Prof Mustafizur Rahman of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD); Nazrul Islam, chief executive of Infrastructure Investment Facilitation Centre (IIFC); Mokbul Elahi, director Petrobangla; Golam Mostafa, former managing director of BCMCL and Shahdeen Malik, a Supreme Court lawyer.

The team at its meeting at BCMCL auditorium yesterday reviewed recommendations of different professionals and rights group, local members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port and Citizen's Commission of Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA). The committee sources said it would not recommend discarding any particular mining method to keep options open for both open-pit and shaft coal mining in the country.

The committee, however, did not agree in principle to recommendations of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral resources and the BEA, which urged the government not to keep provision for open-pit mining system in the draft coal policy. The groups said open-pit mining pollutes the environment, displaces thousands of people from their homesteads and destroys vast areas of fertile farmlands.

The advisory committee also shared view of the two groups that coal export should not be allowed to ensure energy security for future generations. “We should not recommend or ban any mining method in the policy as the method should be fixed on the basis of technical, social, environmental and economic aspects”, Patwari told the review meeting. “If it is found that after cost-benefit analysis, open-pit mining is not viable, it is natural that no one will want to go for that (open-pit mining),” Patwari told the meeting. Other team members present at the meeting also shared Patwari's view, meeting sources said.

Basing on projected future coal requirement for power generation, Patwari said, if Bangladesh adopts only underground mining system, the extracted coal would be fully consumed even before 2025 while the government wants to ensure energy security for 50 years.

As per estimate, around 235 million tonnes of coal can be extracted through underground mining from four coalfields that have a total reserve of around 1,168 million tonnes. On the other hand, around 1,050 tonnes of coal can be extracted by open-pit mining.

Prof Badrul Imam, however, told the meeting that even if open-pit mining method is allowed in the country, it would not be possible to operate more than one open-pit mines as country's coal reserve is concentrated in only two districts.

The team left Dinajpur for Dhaka in the afternoon. Earlier they visited Dighipara under Nawabganj upazila in Dinajpur.