Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Coal Policy Not to Ban any Mining Method to Keep Options Open

Coal policy not to ban any mining method to keep options open
Staff Correspondent, NewAge, September 5, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The advisory committee, formed to finalise the draft coal policy, has decided in principle that the policy would not recommend or ban any particular mining method to keep options open for both open-pit and underground mining in the country.

The committee, headed by former BUET vice-chancellor Abdul Matin Patwari, at a meeting on Monday evening reviewed recommendations of different rights group and professionals including the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port and the Citizen’s Commission of the Bangladesh Economic Association.

The committee, however, did not agree in principle with the recommendations of the oil and gas committee and economic association, which were submitted recently, to drop the open-pit mining method from the coal policy. The groups demanded that the open-pit mining method should be dropped from the policy as it would pollute the environment, oust thousands of people from their homesteads and destroy fertile farmland that produces three rice crops in a year. The advisory committee also shared the view of the two groups that no coal export should be allowed from the country to ensure the energy security of the coming generations.

‘We should not recommend or ban any mining method in the policy as the method should be fixed on the basis technical, social, environmental and economic aspects. If it is found that open-pit mining is not viable after analysing the costs and benefits, it is natural that no one will want to engage in open-pit mining,’ Patwari told the meeting.

Other members present at the meeting included University Grants Commission chairman and environmentalist Nazrul Islam, Dhaka University terachers Badrul Imam and Mustafizur Rahman and Petrobangla director Maqbul-E-Elahi, all of whom echoed Patwari’s view.

Five other committee members were not present at the meeting. Patwari, based on the estimate of the requirement for coal in the country for power generation, observed that if the country adopts only underground mining system, the extracted coal would be fully consumed even before 2025 although the government wanted to ensure energy security for 50 years.

He told the meeting that the oil and gas committee’s convener, Sheikh Shahidullah, recommended that the country should immediately go for underground mining in all coal-fields and after 20 years, if it is found viable, the country could go for open-pit mining after developing its own technical manpower. ‘So, Mr Shahidullah has not ruled out open-pit mining forever,’ he said.

As per the estimate of the framers of the draft coal policy, around 235 million tonnes of coal can be extracted by underground mining from four coal-fields that have a combined reserve of around 1,168 million tonnes. On the other hand, around 1,050 tonnes of coal could be extracted by open-pit mining. As per the power sector master plan, the country will need 41,890 megawatts of electricity by 2025 if the growth rate is considered to be 8 per cent. The draft coal policy estimated that country would need around 450 million tonnes of coal by 2025 to generate around 32,837 megawatts of electricity and rest of the electricity would be generated by gas. By 2035, a total of 1,200 million tonnes of coal will be needed if no new power plants are set up after 2025.

Professor Badrul Imam, however, told the meeting that even if the open-pit mining method is allowed in the country, it would be impossible to operate more than one open-pit mine as country’s coal reserve is situated in only two districts. The committee members will visit Barapukuria, Phulbari and Dighipara coal-fields on September 11-12 before starting to review thoroughly the draft of the coal policy submitted by the energy division.