Coal News of Phulbari – Bangladesh

News on coal resources & coal basins of Bangladesh

“Open Pit Mining Must Start in Phulbari”

Posted by phulbarinews on March 17, 2009

Mollah M Amzad Hossain

Prof. Hossain Mansur of Geology Department of Dhaka University said that appropriate initiative must be taken without delay to explore and exploit coal as alternative fuel to ensure the required power generation in accordance with the election pledge of Awami League. For this, he said, the decision for open pit mining to extract coal from Phulbari is required to be taken on priority basis.

“But to work out the modality, the government must set up a high powered committee now comprising of representatives of Asia Energy, civil society who are opposed to mining at Phulbari and line professionals,” he told the Energy & Power

The EP Editor Mollah Amzad Hossain took the interview of Prof. Hossain Mansur, who is also an ex chairman of Petrobnagla. Following are the excerpts:

EP: What’s your observation about the energy infrastructure development plans or guidelines of Awami League– having proven track record of successfully managing energy sector from 1996-2001– which has returned to state power?

HM: Let us have an objective view of election agenda before making subjective analysis. Possibly this is for the first time since liberation of Bangladesh any political party formally declared well defined short, medium and long term planning for developing energy infrastructure to confront prevailing and emerging energy crisis.

It has been planned to generate additional 5000 MW power in the next 5 years. Generation from different viable alternatives– natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewable source have been envisioned in the plan. Party energy vision till 2021 has also been included there.

Government has spent only about 50 days in state power. There cannot be any doubt about the competence of the persons entrusted to implement the plan. Moreover, Prime Minister herself is monitoring it. But for this the implementing agencies have not been restructured yet. I hope this will be done soon.

Everyone is aware about prevailing crisis of competent professionals in the energy sector. Resolving this crisis is also a major challenge for the new government. Engaging an energy expert as advisor of energy sector during caretaker government was also a right decision.

EP: Do you think the government’s plan to engage an expert committee for this sector will create positive impact?

HM: I think it to be a good initiative of the Prime Minister. Committee formed with real energy experts of the country will definitely bring positive impact.

EP: There are court cases against PM Sheikh Hasina and ex PM Khaleda Zia regarding NIKO–BAPEX joint venture for marginal gas field development. What are your views about it?

HM: Head of the government has prerogative to approve any decision in the greater interest of the country. PMs considered this agreement as beneficial for the country. These cases are purely political.

If there has to be any genuine case of corruption in energy sector that has to be for leasing out Jalalabad gas field. BNP government handed over a discovered gas field to Occidental for a mere 22 million US dollars. But the government now has already purchased 24,000 US$ worth of gas from this field.

EP: Oil Gas & Port Protection Committee claims that there had been major irregularities in Niko agreement. You are associated with their movement. Now you are telling there was no irregularity. Then why you are still with their movement?

HM: Look the committee has several unreasonable demands like opposing offshore exploration; open pit coal mining. Niko is also one such. I don’t agree with the committee on these. It is not possible as an expert to agree with them on these issues.

But I worked with them to resist export of natural gas. I am with them on this. I am trying to make them understand their mistakes.

The left politicians who are staging agitation on oil, gas and port protection know it very well that they will never come to state power. That is why they have taken negative stand on reasonable issues.

EP: Let us again discuss on election pledges of Awami League. Do you think it is possible for the government to realize the pledge?

HM: Look in 1996 when Awami League came to power the government also inherited similar crisis situation in energy sector. Concurrently with expediting ongoing projects government encouraged massive gas exploration initiatives. Moulvibazar gas field was discovered. World Class Bibiyana gas field was also discovered. Sangu offshore gas field was brought into production. BAPEX developed Salda Nadi Gas Field.

On the other hand new power plants were set up after finalizing IPP policy within very short time. Side by side private sector power plants were also set up. For these actions generation increased from effective capacity of 1,500 to 3,000 MW. Consequently first three years of BNP government did not witness any crisis although they failed to set up a new plant during that time.

Now when Awami League led government is again in power the installed capacity of power is 5,450 MW. Some of the aging plants are derated so the real installed capacity is now reduced to 4,950 MW. For ongoing maintenance 680 MW can not be generated. Gas supply crisis also impedes generation of about 500-700 MW. So the available effective generation capacity is now 3,600-3,800 MW. This is not much different to what Awami League government left behind in 2001.

During the last term of Awami League government there was no crisis of gas supply. There was demand supply balance… I mean security of supply in the national gas grid. But now when public and private sectors have plans to set up power plants having capacity of 3,000 MW Petrobangla can not guarantee gas supply to more than 1,000 MW generation. So power generation as per its declared vision is a great challenge for the government. So not only actions for increasing power generation but also actions to source fuel for power are also major challenge. Even a single day must not be wasted in hesitating and sitting on decisions.

In my opinion if the government sincerely intends to realize its election pledge in energy sector it must take decision for offshore exploration in the Bay of Bengal as soon as possible.

On the other hand, appropriate planning needs to be made reviewing the situation whether gas supply will be possible to all planned gas based power plants. If there is uncertainty these must be dual fuel plants.

As a geologist I am optimistic that more gas fields will be discovered in Bangladesh. But natural gas alone can not meet the requirement of power generation. We must diversify fuel option. We need coal. This is our only major viable option. Import of hydro electricity is another option. There is scope for nuclear power generation also. We have to work on renewable power generation. But renewable energy can not be a substitute for fossil fuel based power generation.

Government alone do not have resources or capacity for required power generation. We have to rely on private sector investment from both local and foreign sources. So we must identify areas of energy value chain for foreign direct investment keeping our national interest above everything.

EP: Will you elaborate your opinion on feasibility of alternative fuels other than coal that you have mentioned.

HM: There is very little scope to expand our own hydroelectricity generation. But hydroelectricity import is only possible through regional initiatives. It has to come from Nepal and Bhutan. Both the countries have enormous hydroelectricity generation potential. India is currently importing power from them.

Bangladesh has to take political decision and try to catalyze four nation joint initiative to import hydroelectricity. It is a long term option.

The government has taken some initiative for nuclear power generation. But environmentalists are divided in opinion on nuclear power generation. Government must keep this into consideration also.

EP: You have said that coal is the only feasible option. But we are locked in various debates regarding coal exploration. How exploration can start resolving the current impasse?

HM: Please remember Bangladesh has 2.5 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves. It is possible with available technology to extract at least 1 billion tonne. Exploration from the largest reserve Jamalganj is not commercially viable in traditional method. We are mining coal from Barapukuria by underground method. But due to wrong decision we can only extract about 5 million tonne by 2011. This underground mine will create massive depression and subsidence in the mine area. It can never be restored and rehabilitated. The subsidence process has already commenced. Due to wrong decision it will not be possible to even extract 20-25% coal in place. It will be unwise to set up any new coal fired power plant based on Barapukuria coal.

EP: So you are saying exploration of coal in Barapukuria by underground method is a wrong decision?

HM: Look I am a geologist. Bangladesh geology in the mine area does not support underground mining. If we like to mine commercially it has to be open cut method only for shallow coal mines. Water management is major challenge here. Open pit mining can support recovery of 90% coal in place. In 5-10 years most of the mine area can be restored to original state. Only the final pit about 20% can be converted to a sweet water lake. This will be a massive asset for Bangladesh, a major source of power generation and other use.

It should be mentioned here that 1,400 crore taka has already been spent to develop Barapukuria mine and 1,600 crore taka has been spent to set up mine mouth power plant. But due to inappropriate mining method the investment is under great risk. The property and assets of the people of the region are endangered.

EP: You are telling Bangladesh should follow open pit mining method to explore coal. But, the Oil, Coal and Port Protection Committee is opposed to it.

HM: Look the movement was not against open pit mining. The committee movement was basically due to lack of trust on the then government. Actually it was not mining method rather it was lack of trust on the 4 party alliance government which crystallized the movement.

EP: But it is being told resettlement is a huge problem in case of open pit mining. How do you think about it?

HM: There is international law. Bangladesh also has land acquisition rule. Our neighbour India has extensive experience of open pit mining. In Bangladesh about 3-3.5 lakh people may need to be rehabilitated from mining region for open pit mining for development of all the mines. For a democratic government it may not be a major challenge considering the overall national benefits that availability of huge coal resource and its manifold use would bring about good impacts.

EP: You are suggesting steps to start coal mining must be taken without wasting a day even. How it is possible? Where exploration should start at first?

HM: I believe action to set up coal based power plant installation must start if possible from today. To make coal based power available mining must start at Phulbari first. The reason behind this is that only Phulbari mine is now ready after discovery and other extensive studies.

I also believe that exploration of natural resource will invariably have environmental and social impacts. There will not be any exception here also. But all actions must be taken to mine coal making minimum impact on environment and protecting the rights of affected population.

EP: In that case which company will implement Phulbari Mining? The government has an agreement with Asia Energy.

HM: After signing an agreement there is no scope to disoblige it. It could be more appropriate if an agreement like PSC with provision for cost recovery and exploration-exploitation could be concluded. That would have better protected Bangladesh interest.

On the other hand it has to be decided upon discussion whether Asia Energy or government will carry out open pit mining at Phulabri. But we must keep in mind that extensive government support is a must for mining by Asia Energy or any other company at Phulbari.

EP: Then what you suggest to make the start?

HM: Decision should be taken by the government constituted high powered committee comprising of Asia Energy, agitating civil society representative right now on Phulbari mine development. If necessary the government may seek assistance from Australia, Germany and of India who have vast mining experience. These countries have extensive expertise and experience of coal mining.

Simultaneously the government must finalize the coal policy eliminating provision of coal export. There is no scope to waste time waiting for coal policy anymore.

EP: So are you talking about mining at Khalaspeer and Dighipara also?

HM: Not at all. I have talked about Phulbari only. The alliance government awarded the lease permission to a Bangladeshi-Chinese JV for Khalaspeer without inviting tender. This must be investigated. No initiative should be taken for mining before proper investigation. Petrobnangla has also signed MOU with a Korean Company for mining at Dighipara. It should also be investigated. Without tender no mining lease should be given to anyone anymore.

EP: What are your views on proposed tri-nation gas pipeline and other regional energy cooperation initiatives?

HM: It was a wrong decision for Bangladesh not to proceeding with the tri-nation gas pipeline initiative. Besides, Bangladesh must actively participate in other SAARC, BIMSTEC, Central Asian and Middle Eastern energy ring and grid projects. This must be done in view of our long-term energy security.

Date: 17 March 2009



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