Celebrated the independence day at Thar which happens to be one of the largest single deposit of coal in the world (175 billion tons). It was a dream come true when I touched this black gold located at the bottom of the largest open pit mine of Pakistan (600 x 200 meters). Discovered in 1992 by a joint exploration by Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) and United States Geological Survey. It is spread over an area of 9000 square kilometers. In 2004 as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) and Convenor of the Planning Commission Committee on Metals and Mining I launched a development effort to extract coal from this untapped energy potential. An article titled ‘Proper exploitation of Thar Coal’ was also published in the Dawn on May 7, 2005.
Mining was the biggest challenge as there was no local experience or expertise. Saindak Copper-Gold Project in Baluchistan was started in 1992 but unfortunately it was handed over to the Chinese contractor Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) who built it. As Minerals is a local subject I approached the Minister of Mining and Minerals Government of Sindh (GOS) with a proposal to set up a Mining Company with its head office in Karachi under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister, to extract the black gold. The Minister Incharge was not interested in mining, his focus was on power generation for which he was in contact with a German Group. I tried my best to convince him but was unable to change his mind. My term as Chairman PSF ended in August 2005 bat. I continued to work on this project of vital national importance.
In 2009 Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. He invited me for a presentation, I was able to convince him to start a small Test Mine to establish mine ability. In the same meeting Dr. Samar Mubarakmand as Member Science proposed a project for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). Both projects were approved one under Member Energy (ME) for the ‘Test Mine’ and the other headed by Member Science (MS) for UCG. While no digging took place at Thar the project was kept hijacked under false claims by MS till 2015. Finally digging was started by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) a public-private partnership venture which hit the coal deposit in August 2018.
At Thar at the site there are 500 drivers who drive the 125 dumper trucks each with a capacity of 60 tons, 96 million cubic feet of earth has been removed thus far. Water has been pumped out of the two brackish water aquifers above the coal while the third under the deposit is also being drained to lower the pressure. A huge lake has been formed where appropriate variety of fish is being farmed. In the first phase 3.8 million tons per annum (MTA) of coal will be extracted to produce 660 MW of power (2X330) with a 32 meter thick coal seam there is a potential to produce 5280 MW of power from this block only (Block II).
In 1952, the discovery of natural gas in Dera Bugti area of Balochistan changed the fuel scenario of the country it was at that time one of the largest gas deposits of the world ( 12 Trillion Cubic Feet). Due to mismanagement and misuse the resource has been depleted to 2TCf much before its time. As a result, today Pakistan faces serious fuel challenges.
In 2018 the slogan ‘Thar Badleyga Pakistan’ makes senses as it is the energy future of the country. But burning coal to produce power is an undesirable practice in the 21st century which has to be contained. The black gold can be converted into clean fuel through above ground gasification which is a established process unlike UCG which remains experimental till today. A project has been initiated for this purpose. My paper titled ‘Producing Synthetic Natural Gas for Thar Coal’ has been accepted for presentation at International Pittsburgh Coal Conference (IPCC-2018).
Unlike Dera Bugti, Thar is being transformed by SECMC. 25 schools are already functional, being run by TCF (The Citizens Foundation). A 200 bed hospital is under construction which will be managed by the Indus Hospital Chain. A major transformation is taking place in the area. Over 3000 Tharis have been hired and trained to work in the mine. There are 12 RO (Reverse Osmosis) plants that provide sweet drinking water to the local population.
Pakistan was a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which ended in 2015 but with poor results. Now Strategic Development Goals (SDG) are being pursued worldwide which will end in 2022. SECMC has committed to convert Islamkot as the first SDG complaint district of the country. It is not a small undertaking. Fruits of development must be shared. The local population of the area are equal stakeholders. PPL (Pakistan Petroleum Limited) is also a public-private company that owns the Sui Gas deposits. Royalty payments are regularly made to the locals but the area remains underdeveloped. Two worlds exit there, one inside PPL holdings and the other outside. Neither MDG nor SDG have been pursued. The natural gas from the deposit reached Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar before Quetta the capital city of the province where it was discovered.
In a world driven by technology, energy is serious business. It ensures security of the nation. Imported fuel is only a short term fix. In 1952 Sui Gas was a gift of a democratic Pakistan while in 2018 Thar Coal is an important resource for ‘Naya Pakistan’. Coal is the energy future of the country but as a clean 21st century fuel. An MDG complaint Islamkot will become a model that can be replicated all over the motherland only then the slogan; “THAR BADLEYGA PAKISTAN” become a reality to be cherished by the entire nation. Black gold is there to compensate for the yellow variey that we don’t have.
n The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan