Scepticism over Thar coal

Published: August 21, 2015
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There is bound to be scepticism regarding the promises that have been made vis-vis the project, when one sees that the government handling the issues is that of Sindh.

There is bound to be scepticism regarding the promises that have been made vis-vis the project, when one sees that the government handling the issues is that of Sindh.

One of the most obvious questions that comes to mind when anyone mentions the Thar coal project is when is it actually going to see the light of day. From the time coal reserves were discovered in Thar in the 1990s to the year 2015, sceptics have remained wary of any so-called progress made on the project, laying blame on an inept provincial government. To its credit, aided by eager investors, the financing part of the project has now finally been sealed with a consortium of local banks agreeing to lend $500 million to the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC). The SECMC is a joint venture between the Sindh government and five private companies.

It is no surprise that a population starved for energy and flooded with unfulfilled promises of ending power outages will be cynical at any announcement related to Thar coal. Nevertheless, the project could prove to be crucial in fulfilling the promise of ending power outages and moving a step closer to seeing power generation from over 180 billion tonnes of coal lying underground in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan. It is quite ironic that an area so completely neglected by the Sindh government is now where initiation of development work has become so crucial.

Despite the importance of the project, the authorities need to take into account the consequences of underground coal gasification likely to contaminate nearby water reserves. While private companies have assured that emission guidelines set forth by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation will be followed, the Sindh government needs to make sure that this is indeed the case. It also needs to ensure that the financial close of the project is achieved in the next two months, as promised. Work on the coal mine and power plant would be completed by 2018 if hurdles are tackled efficiently. There is bound to be scepticism regarding the promises that have been made vis-vis the project, when one sees that the government handling the issues is that of Sindh, which does not exactly enjoy a healthy reputation to say the least. Sindh has remained a trouble-ridden province with the rural areas giving a true picture of the government’s incompetence. For once, we would like to believe that given the importance of the Thar coal project, the Sindh government will act differently with regard to it.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st,  2015.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Ali
    Aug 21, 2015 - 1:11PM

    I am more interested in the technical feasibility.
    Can we have an article by an engineer of some description clarifying the technical challenges involved and how difficult it would be?Recommend

  • Ammar Habib
    Aug 21, 2015 - 4:01PM

    Does the author even know about the ground realities? There is no underground gasification project in progress currently. Block-I and Block-II are open pit mines. The author should read up on technical feasibilities, as well as environmental reports — which are already in place, and approved by relevant authorities. Coal is essential — the power produced would be affordable, and would bridge the widening power deficit.Recommend

  • cautious
    Aug 21, 2015 - 6:38PM

    The vast majority of Thar Coal is under a layer of water and the only economical means of extracting the energy is through coal gasification – a largely experimental process. To my knowledge there is no large scale commercial coal gasification plant running anywhere on the planet. The coal gasification project that Pakistan is considering would be a small scale test project.
    .
    Thar Coal does have some coal available for open pit mining – but Thar Coal is low quality/ low BTU and it’s not economical to move any great distance. As such – mine mouth power plants are required – of course if you want to connect the power to the grid you need to build transmission lines.
    .
    Thar Coal can contribute to Pakistan’s energy shortage – but it’s contribution is limited and those who harp on it being a major contributor tend to have political/economic vested interest.Recommend

  • Javed
    Aug 21, 2015 - 7:16PM

    Who has given this 180 billion tonnes figure. It’s a white lie . No international agency has supported this. Moreover onsite generation require huge amount of water which is only available near ocean. We need railways first from thar to badin out thatta.Recommend

  • cautious
    Aug 22, 2015 - 2:13AM

    @Javed:

    Moreover onsite generation require
    huge amount of water which is only
    available near ocean

    I beg to differ. Coal fired power plants don’t need excessive water to operate – the only reason to locate a Coal fired power plant near the ocean is to reduce transportation cost of Coal. Further – if water is the issue then Thar has ample water – a thick layer which prevent access to most of the Thar coal.Recommend

  • Dr. Nasir ALI Bhatti
    Aug 22, 2015 - 6:03AM

    AMUSING.. ALL THOSE SPEAKING OF THAR COAL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT AN ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE DEPOSIT IS. IT IS JUST BE FOOLING THE PEOPLE. I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK ON DRILLING EXPLORATION AT MATING-JHAMPIR IN 1060 ON A LIGNITE SHALE WHICH IS A FEATHER EDGE DEPOSITION OF SO CALLED THAR COAL. LET US LIVE IN THE FANCIFUL DREAMS. JAVED IS 100 PERCENT RIGHT.Recommend

  • Abdul Aleem
    Aug 24, 2015 - 10:14AM

    Looks like the author has no idea what he is talking about.

    This is going to be open pit mining project, nothing to do with coal gasification.Recommend

  • Atheist_Pakistani
    Sep 3, 2015 - 12:52PM

    I did my research on Thar coal and let me tell you, it’s going to be one of the biggest scam for the next 2 years, till this government ends. It’s funny money is already confirmed and given out while a common man needs to much paper work and proof just to get 500 dollar loan from the private banks.Recommend

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