STATE Minster for Power Energy and Mineral Resources Mr. Nasrul Hamid disclosed to the media on July 10 that the government has decided to start a 'small open pit coal mine' in the northern part of Barapukuria Coal Field, Dinajpur. The mine may feed a 1,300 MW mine mouth coal fired power plant. The minister wishes to commence the open pit mine building within three months. It is anticipated that the mine may start producing coal within five years if the government expedites the necessary infrastructure building for the mine operations and secure investment for them. It was also stated that the government intends to develop the 1,300 MW coal fired power plant side by side with the open pit coal mine development. Open pit coal mine development is a charged issue in the country, thanks to the activists' movement with supports from a part of the government and from various national and international NGOs. But the government has realised that domestic coal resource development is extremely necessary and the shallow coal deposits like Barapukuria northern part and Phulbari can only be mined meaningfully with open pit mining technology.
The minister also said that the government had plans for land acquisition for coal mine and the power plant development in and around Barapukuria coal field. Barapukuria coal field was discovered in 1985 and a small underground mine was built in 2005 there to extract coal from deep coal seams. Since then, several accidents occurred in the underground coal mine, and it could secure only one million tons of coal per year. As the mining condition is extremely difficult and the coal production efficiency is low, the recovery rate of coal from the mine is critically low. The underground mining technology targets only 300 hectare area (central part) for mining, but the basin spreads over 668 hectares. At Barapukuria basin, 390 million tonne of coal was deposited at a depth ranging from 118 meters to 503 meters below the surface. With best mining outcomes no one expects more than 25-30 million tonne of coal recovery during the life of the underground mine operations. The northern part of Barapukuria basin (271 hectares with 118 million tonne coal reserve) is excluded for underground mining, and is now considered for open pit mining. If successful, the northern part of Barpukuria alone can deliver more than 100 million tonne of coal using open pit mine.
Last week, the Institute of Water Modeling (IWM) presented its interim report on 'Hydrological study and ground water modeling for the northern part of Barapukuria coal mining' to share the study findings with concerned government departments. A couple of years back government assigned IWM to carry out the study mainly to understand the impacts on the ground water systems in the area if an open pit mine facility is developed, including the de-watering process for an open pit mine development. Media reports suggest that IWM findings indicate that approximately 344 million cubic metres of water per year would be required for the de-watering process. Also, the study findings show that the de-watering can be managed for developing an open pit mine and for operation in the Barapukuria coal field. This is the first attempt by the government to seriously try to assess the much talked about water management issue for a coal mine operation using open pit technology.
In the back drop of the severe primary fuel shortages and rapidly declining natural gas reserves in the country, the government wants to generate 20,000 MW electric energy using coal by 2030. A number of import coal based power plant development initiatives have been taken mainly in the coastal areas of the country. But the challenges for import coal based power development are no less critical than developing our own coal.
Open pit mining is the appropriate method for coal extraction from the shallower part of Barapukuria if coal is to be extracted commercially. And the successful open pit mining there will pave the way for production and utilisation of coal.
The Phulbari tragedy in 2006 caused significant damage to foreign direct investment climate in the mining sector. Also, lack of initiative of successive governments helped some groups to negatively campaign against coal mine development, specially open pit mine development, in the country. Now, when the government has announced that it is going to start open pit mining in the northern part of Barapukuria coal field, it should seriously address the issues of people's genuine concern. Proven technology for mining coal with open pit is available. Investment and management of mine development and operation are the challenges ahead, at least for the first one.
The writer is a mining engineer.