Thar coal – separating facts from fiction

Published: March 21, 2016
The region is now connected with excellent roads which have improved access to educational facilities, health facilities and disaster relief mechanisms for prevalent drought seasons in Thar. PHOTO: APP

The region is now connected with excellent roads which have improved access to educational facilities, health facilities and disaster relief mechanisms for prevalent drought seasons in Thar. PHOTO: APP


Ever since Thar’s vast 175-billion-ton coal resources were discovered in the early 1990s, concerns have been raised about their potential to generate electricity, their economic viability and sustainability, the coal quality and their environmental impact.

Thar coal can sustain the production of 100,000 megawatts of electricity for more than two centuries. With its gas reserves nearly depleted, Pakistan generates 37% of its electricity using oil, the most expensive source of power generation.

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However, the region itself ranks the lowest on all socio-economic indicators, its people are impoverished and there is an undeniable lack of adequate health and educational facilities. Any corporation engaging in mining activities in Thar is duty-bound to ensure that the local Thari community is kept at the forefront of all project-related activity in the region.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) has been allocated block-II for mining activities by the Sindh Coal Authority. The company and its sister concern, Engro Powergen Thar Limited, intend to build a 3.8mt/mine and 2x330MW power plant in the block, which will be operational by 2018.

SECMC engaged several renowned international organisations, including RWE Germany, SRK UK, Hagler Bailly, Sino Coal China and NCGB China, which conducted feasibility and socio-economic impact assessments of the mining and power project. This was important because the ecological and environmental impact of mining activities is a recurrent argument against the development of Thar coal.

Mining activities require pits of up to 135-metre depth to be dug. However, the ecology of the desert will not be affected as these pits will be filled back once the coal has been extracted.

Under its environmental management plan, SECMC will plant hundreds of thousands of trees to maintain the natural ecosystem of the desert. It will incorporate wind and water erosion control measures, inclusive of dune management where necessary, in project design.

SECMC has also explored bio-saline agriculture as an alternative means of livelihood for the locals of Thar to reduce their dependence on rain for agriculture and enhance the region’s biodiversity.

Water resources not under threat

Hagler Bailley’s environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) shows that there is no immediate risk to groundwater resources. SECMC will provide an alternative water supply source for domestic uses to those affected by the project.

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The underground water will not be contaminated or pumped into the sea as erroneously believed. Storage ponds and an effluent disposal system being established by the Sindh government will ensure that underground water is extracted from the aquifers according to conventional industrial practices before any contact with coal.

Nearby communities will be provided with reverse osmosis (RO) plants to ensure access to clean water in the unlikely event that any contamination occurs.

Little risk of wind pollution

Another popular misconception is that mining operations will cause large-scale wind pollution. The ESIA report has determined this risk to be minimal and manageable. The company will take dusk management measures to further minimise the adverse environmental impact.

Another recurrent issue is the lack of provision of pastoral land for affected families which is crucial as livestock rearing is their main means of income generation. Both villages of block-II to be relocated will be provided separate Goucher land measuring between 850 and 1,200 acres.

Moreover, SECMC has developed a resettlement action plan in line with the Sindh government’s resettlement policy framework under which the company will equip relocated villages with facilities equal or better than their current residential structures.

Expert town planners and architects have been hired to design structures which support indigenous traditional features and are also equipped with modern amenities for the village being relocated in the first phase.

Job creation

Economic prosperity in the form of direct employment through the project will change the lives of Thar people. The project will require unskilled manpower of up to 3,000 people from the region and up to 1,400 people will be needed as mine truck drivers, shovel/excavator operators, technicians, etc.

The project will also create numerous entrepreneurial opportunities for the local community. Additionally, the Sindh government is working on infrastructural development of the region which includes state-of-the-art road networks, bypasses, bridges, airport facilities, a water supply scheme, an effluent disposal system amongst many other infrastructure-related projects amounting to Rs60 billion.

The region is now connected with excellent roads which have improved access to educational facilities, health facilities and disaster relief mechanisms for prevalent drought seasons in Thar.

It is important to establish a culture of positive advocacy with regards to the Thar coal project which stands to benefit millions and project accurate information regarding all procedures and project-related activities. Encouraging accurate and informed debate regarding all procedures and project-related activities is the least we can do for our energy-impoverished nation and for the indigenous Thar population.

The writer is the CEO of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st,  2016.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Saad Q
    Mar 21, 2016 - 10:52AM

    Numbers coming out of Pakistani “institutions” are dodgy at best. They are usually influenced by the agenda of the ruling party at the time. Mushy made it appear like he presided over an economic miracle. But all he did was defer loan repayments and got substantial coalition support fund. Recommend

  • Jameel ur Rasheed
    Mar 21, 2016 - 11:24AM

    The article would sound more credible if was written by someone independent of the matter. CEO of the Company would obviously tell you that there is nothing to worry about. We stupid Pakistanis are going towards coal and nuclear energy while rest of the world is moving towards renewable energy. A Scandinavian country just achieved 144% of their total energy requirements through wind. Recommend

  • Syed Ahmed
    Mar 21, 2016 - 1:15PM

    My suggestion is for CEO to improve the communication strategy.

    Engage digital/ social to enhance the work your company is doing on the project and what you are doing for the people.
    Take TV news channel for a 1 hour long documentary highlighting the potential, your company work and CSR activities.
    Desert is a beautiful place. Arrange road trips for key communication people from all TV channels for them to understand the place better.
    Sponsor/ develop Events like Desert Driving Race, Dune bashing competition, Music night in the desert.

    This will give you ample exposure to media and your company can benefit from the positivity.

    Good luck.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 21, 2016 - 1:37PM

    That was a educational read…….in simple terms things will work if government is kept as far away from it as possible. Recommend

  • cautious
    Mar 21, 2016 - 7:04PM

    Article written by Engro talks about facts but doesn’t provide many. CEO doesn’t mention that he looked high/low to find someone to finance Thar but couldn’t find any takers – none of the std sources who finance major coal mines thought much of the Thar project. He had to resort to the Chinese and even they requested that either Engro put in more capital or Pakistan govt guarantee the debt … of course Pakistan ended up guaranteeing the debt. Why should the Pakistan taxpayers be on the hook for Engro debt?Recommend

  • Imran
    Mar 21, 2016 - 10:01PM

    China or the US does did not become global economic powerhouses by requiring ‘environmental or social impact’ assessments. Recommend

  • Mar 24, 2016 - 12:14PM

    Engro is engaged in removing overburden since middle of 2014. Until now they have not been able to remove top 10 meter of 1 sq km. How much time they will take to complete the removal of overburden.Recommend

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