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Thar coal: keeping options open


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COAL deposits in the Thar Desert are a national asset that can solve our energy problem if utilised and exploited properly. Unfortunately the concept of underground gasification of this coal is being promoted as the only viable solution to Pakistan’s energy shortages and anyone questioning the technical aspect and economic viability of this concept is immediately called an agent of some lobby and branded as a traitor.

However, the persons pushing this flawed concept down the throat of this nation do not come forward before any professional forum to explain and justify their preposterous claim about producing electricity at Rs4 per kilowatt, and millions of barrels of diesel at $40/barrel.

According to experts producing 80,000 MW electricity and millions of barrels of various bio fuels worldwide through underground coal gasification are patently false and misleading. The examples of South Africa and other countries, blithely quoted in TV talk shows conveniently neglect to mention that gasification of coal is in fact done in these countries and electricity and bio-fuels are produced, but it is done through a chemical process by using steam and catalytic agents in chemical reactors and not by burning coal, either above or below ground.

The biggest casualty of UCG in Thar will be the contamination of groundwater, the Sindh government has paid $10 million for studies done by internationally credible firms like RWE, SRK and Hagler Bailly which have concluded that the main groundwater aquifer in Thar contains 4,500 to 6,500 parts per million (ppm). Total dissolved salts (TDS) as compared to sea water which has over 35000 ppm. The provincial government is installing 31 desalination plants to make this water available to people living in Thar as a drinking water resource.

The groundwater in Thar not only serves as a drinking water resource for the people of the entire dessert but is also a strategic asset for Pakistan’s security forces who has always taken a keen interest in it. The Thar has been an important theatre in both the 1965 and 1971 wars; preservation of this vital strategic resource should be of paramount significance. Have the proponents of UCG taken this aspect into account, as the project they undertake will ultimately kill, maim and destroy living beings, because without any doubt, UCG will introduce chemicals such as benzene, toulene, phenolic compounds, poly aromatic hydrocarbons, etc, into the groundwater that would cause cancer and other diseases in Thar.

ZAHOOR ABBASI San Diego, California

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

Comments (15) Closed

ali May 29, 2012 05:03am
We hear conflicting reports all the time about this coal. Some say it is low BTU and is too wet to be mined. Some say otherwise. Dr. Summer is claiming successful gasification. Is there anyone to tell us the truth?
Masood Hussain May 29, 2012 07:17am
It is a pity,whenever there is any effort by the Govt.[any at any time] tolaunch new project to improve the existing situation of any sort some so called experts start de-crying it without giving any plausible reason or fact or argument or any statistic.It happend with Kalabagh Dam,It happend with early acquirment of steel mill,launching of electricity by BB,Rental power,and now getting power from coal.One wonders how our country is going to progress.
Arsal May 29, 2012 07:57am
By the way regarding your QUESTION of coming front of PROFESSIONALS ??? PIEAS is organizing a COAL CONFERENCE in collaboration with experts from England and Pakistan to discuss weather this project will work or not . You interest please register yourself .
Usman May 29, 2012 09:35am
Actually, there were and are plenty of technically valid arguments given against the Kalabagh Dam but its proponents conveniently sidestep them and question the patriotism of anyone who opposes it. It's the same with the UCG; few people bother to look at both sides of the discussion. This particular method's feasibility of producing power from the coal in Thar is highly questionable.
Akram May 29, 2012 11:30am
As an investor in Thar, I am of the view the government has actually done a good job on Thar. It has concentrated on using most of the blocks using proven methods and allocated only 1 block to pursue UCG, essentially an unproven technology at this point. It has even allocated an additional 1 block for sale to an Australian company (Cougar Energy) that has some expertise in UCG. This will not only bring in investment but more importantly possibly the technology to utilize the Thar Lignite Coal using proven UCG methods. The author should be aware people who refer to patriotism in such arguments are usually economically illiterate, and also one of the main issues holding back Pakistan's development. They will have to learn the hard way that the world outside cares little about their purile opinions.
Ben May 29, 2012 11:35am
A TDS concentration that high is too high for humans to drink or to be used for irrigation. Desalination is very expensive and energy intensive, so ironically a cheap source of power such as UCG is a great place to start. In the unlikely instance the groundwater is contaminated, the water will need to be treated before drinking anyway. Removing this contamination will occur using the same process as use to remove the salt. Coal is not burnt underground, it is gasified using the same chemical reactions that occur in the surface gasifiers which have operated globally for well over 100 years. Sites in the former Soviet Union have used UCG for 50 years. The results I have seen first hand (in Australia) have gas quality higher than those obtained in the surface gasifiers.The question is therefore not IF it works but more whether it is economic in a more free market environment. Zahoor, UCG has its problems but you will have to make up some new problems to get any credibility. I find commentry on the Thar project surprisingly uninformed and strangely political, perhaps there is more at play than I can see from over here.
usman May 29, 2012 11:49am
I think "ZAHOOR ABBASI" should read about the caron emittion and the effects the global warming can have on Pakistan. Its such a shame that educated people are supporting such projets. Making electricity from oil and coal is least efficient and emits huge amout of green house gasses. The climate change can shift the weather patrens , causing extreme weather events like 2010 floods or long droughts. Pakistan should look towads solar and wind energy and small sclae hyro projects. Not even nuclar energy is safe, if a country like Japan can not make safe nuclar power plants how can we trust chinies technology. And all of pakistan lies on the earth quake default line. So No to coal . NO to oil and NO to nuclear only solar and wind
TNS May 29, 2012 01:31pm
Did you even read what he said before accusing him of supporting the project, if you read the article first, you will realize Mr Abbasi is against the project and does not believe the claims of experts, like most people with some common sense. The coal in Thar is of very low grade and not worth the effort.
TNS May 29, 2012 01:32pm
by listening to all sides...
ATIF May 29, 2012 09:38pm
Junaid May 29, 2012 11:42pm
I really liked your reply. It was concise and had concrete information. Thank you.
ALTAF May 30, 2012 10:23pm
Zahoor Abbasi has high-lightened the environmental issue regarding the underground coal gasification may cause the ground water contamination which is absolutely right. All the development nations follow the R&D but unfortunately we Pakistani run our big projects without R&D only and only for credit game. we have individual approaches rather than team work. Dr. Samar Mubarak is asset for Pakistan, we are proud of him and his services in the field of nuclear and missile technology are unforgettable and his well wishes and efforts towards development of energy sector are appreciable. But there are some reservations regarding the UCG Thar project because 1st Dr. Samar Mubarak is not coal expert and he has no any experience of running such project. 2nd due to lack of expert approach Dr. made exaggerated statements and he has any idea of syngas. Proper exploration and development work has not been carried out to meet the challenges.
altaf May 30, 2012 10:24pm
Exploration drilling in said block has been carried out by local drilling company Deep Rock Drilling (pvt) Limited (DRD). Reserve of coal has been estimated according to JORC code as claimed by the DRD which are totally wrong and fake figures because in Pakistan there is no any coal expert who meets the JORC criteria. DRD may be asked about the credibility/qualification/experience of the coal reseve estimator.
amjad Jul 03, 2012 05:24pm
you are absolutely right b/c burning of fossil fuels Emmit large amount of CO2 that is very harmful so now the pakistan has to introduce wind and solar energy systems officially
amjad Jul 03, 2012 05:20pm
great commit and we all Pakistani need your kind of instructors and thinkers i really hope someone stands to pull our country forward my pray is always for my country and its people