Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expat experts begin reviewing coal issues: Barapukuria mine operating amid high risk, they observe

The Daily Star, June 18, 2009

While dissecting the draft coal policy at a four-day brainstorming session, a panel of expatriate and local experts emphasised on health and environmental aspects in finalising the policy that should additionally be trimmed down.

They said that the policy should dictate that health and environment should represent at least two percent of any coal mining cost.

According to sources present at the brainstorming session being held at the Jamuna Resort from June 15, the experts agreed on the draft's suggestion on forming a “Coal Bangla” like Petrobangla to spearhead activities in the coal sector.

Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (Berc) will have an inspector of mines as a tool to regulate the mining standards from geological perspective, while the Department of Environment would deal with the surface environment, they said at the session that concludes today.

The Petrobangla and the energy ministry invited the expatriates at this programme to stimulate a fresh perspective on the draft coal policy, land subsidence at the Barapukuria coal mine site and human resettlement issues.

“The discussions here have been highly academic. The non-resident Bangladeshis are not related to any private company working in Bangladesh and they have not been involved with the drafting of the policy in the past. They are not debatable, though some quarters are trying to make the people suspicious about this session,” said an official of Petrobangla present at the discussions.

The discussants felt that the draft coal policy had a lot of chapters not relevant as policy. “We all agreed that this document should be confined within policy matters,” said a source.

The draft also seeks to ensure coal reserve to meet 50 years of demand. The discussants felt that it was not realistic as, in the course of time, there would be many unpredictable developments that would demand changes in the strategy.

The country did not have adequate data on proven coal reserve except for the case of Barapukuria and Phulbari deposits and therefore it should take up extensive feasibility study of other discovered coal deposits.

Bangladesh should mark a mining zone and begin exploration extensively, they said.

The draft policy projected coal demands mainly on the basis of power sector requirements. But the policy should take into cognisance other sectors' requirements.

In the high-energy demand scenario, the experts find no reason to allow export of coal. However in some peculiar conditions, the provision of export should be kept there. For instance, due to power plant failure in Barapukuria, the coal mine there now has so much surplus coal that these should be exported or removed to other places to ensure safety.

To develop the coal sector huge resources are required. This resource may be derived from public private partnership, share market, issuance of bonds, loans from development partners, leasing etc.

Besides the session discussed about financial incentives for investors and gathering of baseline data from the coal deposit areas.

Double PhD holder from UK and Australia on minerals, Dr. Nasir Ahmed is acting as the coordinator of the expatriate group. Other expatriate experts are: Dr Saad Andalib, Professor and the Chair of Marketing, Pennsylvania State University, USA, Dr Khalequzzaman, head of Geology Department of Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, US based environmentalist Dr Sarwat Chowdhury, mining engineer working in Queensland coal and iron mines Masud Hossain, and Melbourne based Global Positioning System and Global Information System expert Sultana Nasrin.

The chairmen of Petrobangla and Power Development Board (PDB), members from Geological Survey of Bangladesh, Bureau of Mineral Development, Barapukuria Coal Mine Company, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, Dr Hossain Monsur of the Geology Department of Dhaka University, and representatives from the Rajshahi University and the Chemical Engineering Department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) are participating in the session.