Environmental issues are always associated with all major development projects, whether it be construction of dams, roads, railways or the establishment of new cities and factories.
The projects with more benefits and least adverse environmental, economic or social impacts are considered fruitful for the people.
One easy and immediate way of solving the energy crisis in Pakistan is to exploit coal energy because of a shortage of gas and the lack of consensus on the construction of new big hydro projects. Thar coal project will not only bring development in the area in the form infrastructure and new job opportunities but will also resolve energy crisis.
However in the course of a survey of the ground realities, interaction with SECMC officials and take from the concerned villagers, some environmental and social issues related to utilisation of Thar coal surfaced which need to be addressed in the interest of the local community.
So far coal mining activities have started at one block only and the issue of disposal of water waste at Gorano depression has triggered a protest from many villagers. They are protesting against the construction of Gorano pond/dam to collect mine effluent.
Villagers ask: Where will the water waste be disposed of when all blocks become active, as Gorano pond has a capacity of receiving effluent from Block-II only? Will separate ponds for each block be constructed and the soil, water, and environment of all of Thar be spoiled?
It is recommended that, if possible, the effluent from all blocks should be discharged directly into Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) near Shadi Large town by laying main drainage pipeline as there is enough slope between coal field and LBOD for the gravity flow.
Thar coal project will bring development and resolve the energy crisis, but at what cost?
Construction and ponding of Gorano dam with saline water may alter the ecology, morphology, biodiversity, groundwater hydrology, local weather and soil composition of the area. Hence, detailed research on the direct and indirect impacts of the saline water storage, seepage, contaminant/solute transport and evaporation should be conducted.
The use of dewatered water for bio-saline agriculture should be tested as it contains salt concentration tolerable for growing many salt tolerant crops. If irrigated agriculture area expands, it will not only improve the livelihood of the local population but it will also have a positive impact on the environment. Technical support on bio-saline can be sought from Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam.
Aqua farming should also be tried and encouraged at Gorano dam/pond for shrimp and other seawater fish farming.
The use of extracted groundwater from coal mine area having TDS of about 5,000 ppm can be considered for use in power plant and for drinking purpose after treatment through Reverse Osmosis (RO) process. It will not only reduce water inflow into Gorano dam but will also be more economical than bringing LBOD effluent having TDS of more of than 7,000 ppm and treating it at Nabisar RO plants at the cost of Rs30bn.
Priority should be given to locals in all jobs in Thar Coal Field. Only when technical persons are not available locally, outsiders may be hired.
Trees, shrubs, and grass along the roadsides and Gorano pond embankments should be planted using trickle irrigation system which will minimise wind erosion and silting of the pond and have a positive impact on the local environment.
There is also a need compensate all those farmers who are likely to lose their earnings due to the construction of the plant and have ‘Yaksala’. They may also be considered for jobs in the mining projects.
To minimise seepage, the bed and banks of the Gorano and Dukkar Chho ponds, if possible, should be lined with clay; geomembrane or any soil sealant.
Instead of conventional power plants, Supercritical and Ultra-Supercritical coal-fired power plants should be used so as to minimise emissions (including carbon dioxide, sulphur, and mercury) for cleaner and safer environment and increase efficiency and decrease fuel costs per megawatt.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, April 3rd, 2017