Petrobangla bid for quick exploration hits snag
Instead of encouraging Petrobangla to find a strategic partner quickly to explore and develop Dighipara coal zone -- given the on-going energy crisis, the energy ministry has decided to shelve the process till approval of the coal policy.
The chief adviser's special assistant on energy recently said coal policy would be placed before the council of advisers for approval within 10 days but officials are not yet sure about this.
"Coal policy has become a political issue, and the caretaker government may not be interested to handle such political matters," says a high official. "This means Petrobangla spearheading a modern coal project has to wait indefinitely."
The Bureau of Mineral Development (BMD) on February 27 this year granted Petrobangla licence to explore the 4,000 hectare Dighipara zone where high quality coal has been discovered.
The energy ministry's permission to Petrobangla to find a partner that has the finances, technology and experience came in June last year. Back then, the ministry had said Petrobangla would go for finding a partner on completion of the draft coal policy. It was then presumed that the policy would be approved by now.
But the government is yet to approve the coal policy that was first drafted three years ago.
According to highly placed sources, approval of the policy is being delayed because once it is done, the government will have to take a hard decision on whether or not to allow controversial Asia Energy to develop Phulbari coal mine.
"Non-approval of the coal policy is bogging down all other plans on coal utilisation. The government is not even allowing its own entity Petrobangla to go ahead with Dighipara. Such inaction cannot be beneficial for the nation," a senior Petrobangla official said, seeking anonymity.
Dighipara has a proven coal deposit of 100 million tonnes and probable deposit of 600 million tonnes. Proper exploration and development of a coalmine is a billion dollar venture, pushing Petrobangla to look for a qualified partner.
After Petrobangla received the licence, it drafted an Invitation for Expression of Interest (EOI) to find a strategic partner. The draft was sent to the energy ministry in mid-March this year.
It was then decided that following the tender and selection process of Petrobangla's partner, the government must approve the joint venture between Petrobangla and the selected partner. In the light of this, Petrobangla should frame a tender structure and schedule, and send it to the advisory body on economic affairs.
Then in mid-May, the energy ministry decided that till the coal policy is announced, no new information should be incorporated in the EOI. And therefore, the EOI should be finalised after announcement of the policy.
"Right now, Petrobangla's task is to find a partner. Finding a partner does not however mean actual exploration and development are taking place now, these will take a few years. But the ministry is too worried about everything, and it is not helping the nation," the Petrobangla official added.
Bangladesh will need 13 million tonnes of coal a year for the next 10 years to generate additional power to meet its rising demand since natural gas supply for power generation will not be able to cater to this need.
Dighipara is one of the five identified areas where geologists had earlier detected coal deposits.