Sunday, October 21, 2007

Draft coal policy eyes ban on export

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, October 21, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The advisory committee formed to finalise the draft coal policy inserted in the draft at a meeting on Saturday some major issues, including ban on coal export and bar on assigning any foreign company with operation of any coal field without participation of any state-run organisation.

The committee, headed by former BUET vice-chancellor Abdul Matin Patwari, also decided in principle to keep a provision in the policy for taking a pilot project on open-pit mining at Petrobangla’s Barapukuria coal field.

The committee, which started to review on Saturday every line of the draft submitted by the Energy Division, inserted a provision in the ‘perspective chapter’ that it would not be possible to export coal from Bangladesh keeping in view the country’s energy security for the next 50 years.

It also noted that the people and the nation were the owners of the country’s coal and other mineral resources. The committee also included in the draft a clause that the government sector would get preference in developing coal fields. ‘But, in case of emergency, the government will be able to take a decision on developing coal field through joint initiatives with private and public entities of local and foreign countries,’ its observed.

The meeting was told that no foreign company could be given any coal field alone and any foreign company could only develop coal field jointly with any state-run entities like Petrobangla or the proposed Coal Bangla. The modalities of such joint initiatives will be discussed by the committee in future.

The committee decided in principle to insert a provision in the policy for launching a pilot project on open-pit mining at Barapukuria coal mine covering eight square kilometre area to examine the viability of the mining method that drew much controversy in the country.

Two committee members, Professor Nurul Islam and Professor Badrul Imam, who submitted a paper on their recent experience on India’s coal sector, concluded that it would be unrealistic from environment considerations to go for open-pit mining in Phulbari coal field.

The professors from BUET and Dhaka University attended SAARC Technical Seminar on Strategies on Promotion of Coal Development and Clean Coal Technologies in SAARC Region on October 16 in Kolkata and visited an open-pit mine at Sonepur.

According to the paper of professors Nurul Islam and Badrul Imam, most of the open-pit mines in India are implemented at coal fields that have coal seams at a depth ranging between 100 and 200 metres, whereas in Phulbari, where Asia Energy has proposed to extract coal through open-pit mining, the coal seams are at a depth of 300 metres.

The meeting was told that the north part of Barapukuria coal field, where the country’s lone underground coal field is situated, has a coal reserve at a depth of 110 metres. The meeting observed that by implementing a pilot open-pit mining at Barapukuria coal field, its impact on the environment could be assessed and experience on resettlement issue gathered.

It was suggested that a state-run entity would launch the pilot project for 10–12 years. But many of the committee members felt that funding would be the major obstacle to implementing such pilot projects.

University Grants Commission chairman Nazrul Islam, Bangladesh Army engineer-in-chief Major General Ismail Faruque Chowdhury, Professor Mustafizur Rahman of Dhaka University, Infrastructure Investment Facilitation Centre executive director Nazrul Islam, Petrobangla director Maqbul-E-Elahi, and former managing director of Barapukuria coal mining company Golam Mostafa attended the meeting, among others.