Coal: Thar’s very own black gold

CEO Shamsuddin Shaikh says company’s goal is to produce electricity as well as achieve social uplift for locals

Salman Siddiqui February 22, 2017
Thar contains the world’s 7th largest coal reserves at an estimated 175 billion tons. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: People in Thar are literally sitting on billions worth of coal deposits, but their surroundings are a stark reminder to the kind of progress Pakistan has made - rich in resources and potential, but poor in development and infrastructure.

Despite the coal reserves, Thar continues to be among the most poverty-ridden areas in the province - not that the benchmark is really high in Sindh.

Now, after a long and overdue wait, a public-private partnership model promises to change the reality.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), in partnership with the provincial government, has already kicked-off operations to extract Thar coal and the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, says electricity production from the first of four units will commence by the end of 2018. The 1,320-megawatt Thar coal-based power plants, comprising four units of 330MW each, are being completed at a cost of $2.1 billion.

Thar project: First unit to start power production by end of 2018

“We are running ahead of the given schedule; though the commercial operation date (COD) of two power plants is June 2019, we expect electricity production from the first unit to begin by the end of next year,” said Shaikh.

Shaikh said energy production from the first unit in December 2018 would, however, depend on coal availability from the Thar field.

“Coalmining in the Thar field block-II is being carried out round the clock and we expect to see the completion of mining work before deadline as well,” he added.

All these projects are being executed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) programme. SECMC is working in collaboration with the Sindh government and is the main sponsor of the project.

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Uplift of locals

But despite the progress, some believe that the people of Thar may not get the benefit they deserve.

Shaikh, however, said it is crucial to carry out the project to achieve social uplift in the area.

“Thar people are the real owners of Thar coal ... but they are still living in the 18th century. A social uplift programme is in progress, which is part and parcel of the coal extraction project. This would bring them to the 21st century,” Shaikh said in an interview with The Express Tribune.

“SECMC and Engro Powergen Thar have initially allocated significant amount of funds for the programme,” he said.

Shaikh urged upon other companies involved in the coal extraction and/or utilisation projects to do the same. “The projects would become meaningless if they do not bring a positive change in the lives of the locals,” he said.

The government of Sindh should also spend the royalty from the projects on locals, he said.

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Thar contains the world’s seventh largest coal reserves at an estimated 175 billion tons, more than the combined oil reserves in fuel-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran, and 68-times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves, Shaikh said.

The joint venture has formed Thar Foundation to run the uplift programme. It would construct a 100-bed hospital, schools, mosque, a temple, market place, community centre, bus stand, Otaq {a public gathering/sitting room) and a milk collection centre.

He said the joint venture has employed approximately 2,000 people with majority jobs going to the locals.

“We {companies} are giving and would continue placing orders for construction materials and hire their services to make them successful entrepreneurs,” he said.

The Thar Foundation has selected 25 engineering students from Tharparkar District. They would be given further education and training at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology and Institute of Business Administration for the next two years. Later, they would be hired by SECMC, he said.

Thar population was estimated at 2.265 million in 2015. At present, Thar is known as a food insecure district, as hundreds of children die due to malnutrition and inadequate medical facilities.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.

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cautious | 7 years ago | Reply Thar has vast reserves but most of that coal is located under a thick layer of water and is uneconomical to mine using current Coal Technology - that's why many articles on Thar Coal refer to underground coal gasification (something that is still in the experimental stage). Further, Thar Coal has a low BTU content which restricts usage to power plants located at/near the mine site (take more energy to move it than it generates). Lastly - Thar isn't connection to the national energy grid and it's remote location will make that expensive/difficult. In short - Thar might help energy crisis but it's not going to be a significant factor.
hamza khan | 7 years ago | Reply kudos! bravo! pakistan zindabad!
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