An experts’ committee formed by the government has found in its study open pit mining in the Phulbari coal deposit as a practical approach.
The 17-member committee observes British company Asia Energy’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is standard but lacks explanations of environmental mitigation in several areas.
To address this, the government should conduct its own study to confirm Asia Energy’s techno-economic feasibility of open pit mining at Phulbari, the committee recommends.
The Phulbari project remains suspended for seven years following a bloody public outcry in August 2006 against the open pit mining proposal of Asia Energy.
“Except Phulbari, other coal deposits must be worked with underground method,” states a report of the committee headed by former Petrobangla chairman Mosharraf Hossain. Other members include officials of different ministries concerned including the environment ministry, Petrobangla and experts from different universities.
The committee also suggests undertaking a small open pit mining project on the north side of Barapukuria coalmine under a production sharing contract (PSC) just like that of oil and gas sector.
The northern part has an estimated reserve of 100 million tonnes of coal at a depth ranging from 118 metres to highest 500 metres.
The northern Barapukuria has been excluded from the present underground mine that covers an area of 300 hectares. The excluded part has 388 hectares of land on which there are railway tracks, office buildings and other structures.
“Therefore, it will be a challenge to make an open pit mine in the northern part,” a geologist observes.
Tasked by the energy ministry, the committee sees the open pit mining method as environmentally very challenging and states, “Misconception that the underground operation can only allow 10 percent of coal recovery must be removed… with proper design… coal extraction up to 70 percent of the deposits is not an impractical amount.”
The committee was formed a year ago to give opinions on appropriate method of coalmining and related socioeconomic, water management and environmental issues as there is strong resistance against open pit mining which was proposed by Asia Energy in Phulbari in 2004-05.
Sources say although the Awami League-led government initially planned to develop different coal fields to ensure the country’s energy security, it has been following a go-slow policy since last year considering public resistance at the coal field areas. Developing any coal field using underground or open pit method needs relocation of people and undertakes elaborate steps to minimise environmental impacts.
The committee was supposed to finalise its report on September 11, but in the last moment it opted for revising some small details.
According to the draft report, the committee suggests conducting detailed engineering and economic feasibility study at Khalashpir coal field and preparing for an underground mine there. It is estimated that this field has a reserve between 174 million and 277 million tonnes of coal.
The experts say Barapukuria field has 389 million tonnes of reserve, of which only 81 million tonnes or 28 percent would be extracted through the current underground method. The rest will be lost due to design and mining flaws. The deposit is situated at a depth ranging between 118 metres to 509 metres.
However, according to Barapukuria mine’s development plan, it is actually extracting 25-30 million tonnes of coal in next two decades.
The Phulbari coal deposit is located between 20 metres to 350 metres and has 572 million tonnes of coal, more than 90 percent of which the Asia Energy had proposed to extract through an open pit mine.
The Jamalganj deposit is the biggest in the country spreading around 11.7 square kilometres area having 1,054 million tonnes of coal. However, the deposit is situated way below 600 metres, making it a difficult prospect even as an underground mine.
The Dighipara coal is situated 323 metres to 408 metres below the surface. It is primarily estimated to have a deposit of 100 million tonnes of coal.
The committee also recommends conducting exploratory drilling in Dighipara and Jamalganj to confirm reserves and undertake detailed techno-economic feasibility studies to develop these fields through underground mining.
It also suggests borehole mining through Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification.