Md. Khalequzzaman runs the rule over the various coal mining options available to us
Production and consumption of energy are probably the most reliable indicators of the economic strength and standard of living in a society. The per-capita energy use in Bangladesh is 118 KgOE (kilogram oil equivalent), which is one of the lowest even among the least developed countries. Per capita energy use in India is three times higher than in Bangladesh. For reference, per-capita energy consumption in the US is about 8,000 KgOE.
The degree of electrification is a measure of industrialisation in a country. Less than 25 percent of the entire population in Bangladesh has access to electricity, which is used mainly for household needs.
India produces about 136,000 MW of electricity. To have same level of per-capita electricity, Bangladesh would need to produce about 18,000 MW, whereas we only produce about 3,200 MW.
By the year 2016, India plans to add another 36,000 MW to her production, implying that Bangladesh will have to produce a total of 23,000 MW by the year 2016 in order to have similar per-capita level. Bangladesh has made a pledge to provide electricity to all citizens by 2020. The population is projected to reach 180 million by 2020, which means that Bangladesh will need to produce five times the current level of electricity, i.e. about 16,000 MW just to maintain the same per-capita level of consumption of energy.
Bangladesh relies heavily on natural gas as a source of energy for production of electricity: about 50 percent of the annual production of 584 billion cubic feet of gas is used to generate electricity.
Total proven and recoverable reserve of natural gas in Bangladesh is calculated to be between 5 trillion cubic feet (TCF) and 12 TCF. At the current annual rate of consumption (0.5 TCF), natural gas will be depleted in the next 10 to 24 years. However, with a growth rate of 5 to 10%, which is desirable, even the higher estimated amount of gas reserve (12 TCF) will be depleted between 2014 and 2020. Just to provide electricity to her 180 million people, Bangladesh will need about 1.25 TCF per year beyond 2020. Bangladesh will need a lot more energy if she decides to have increased growth in heavy industry and production of commercial products, including fertiliser.
For reference, the USA has a population of 300 million, and consumes 21 TCF of gas to meet only 23% of her yearly energy requirements, and 1 billion tons of coal to produce an additional 23% of the energy needs. According to one projected estimation, Bangladesh will require about 100 to 150 TCF of gas or its equivalent up to the year 2050. It is obvious that Bangladesh will not have any gas left beyond 2020 (or earlier) to meet the energy demands. The question is, what other alternative sources of energy can Bangladesh turn to?
Coal plays a vital role in the energy mix throughout the world. So far, a total of 2.7 billion tons of coal have been discovered in five fields in Bangladesh. About 1.4 billion tons are recoverable, which is equivalent to 37 TCF of natural gas, and can generate electricity for about 30 years beyond 2020. India, for example, has a coal reserve of 92 billion tons, which is enough for over 200 years at the current rate of consumption; yet India imports about 37 million tons (1 TCF of gas equivalent) every year.
Bangladesh is an energy-starved country, and all of her fossil fuels (gas and coal) reserves have to be exploited to achieve national energy security; she simply cannot afford to export any of her discovered energy resources. If Bangladesh mines all its recoverable coal and uses it for generation of electricity, then the country can achieve energy security for about 30 years or so.
Coal is used to produce a huge amount of electricity (up to 68% in India and 80% in China), and can play an important role in the energy mix of Bangladesh in the future. However, before Bangladesh can proceed with coal mining, there are several important issues that need attention. Coal is a dirty fuel, and if not done properly, coal mining can negatively impact on the landscape, soil, surface water, groundwater, air, and human health during all phases of exploration and use. Therefore, strict regulations and enforcement of laws are essential during all phases of coal mining.
Currently, Bangladesh lacks proper environmental rules, regulations, acts, policy, standards, institutions, and expertise to deal with all the phases of coal exploration, monitoring of environmental degradation that can result from coal mining, and compliance with the environmental laws. Since Bangladesh does not have prior experience in coal mining, a proper legal framework that will guarantee transparency, accountability, monitoring of environmental health, and compliance, is virtually non-existent.
Bangladesh can learn from international experience, both positive and negative, of coal mining. India and the US, for example, have been involved in coal mining for over 200 years. Both of these countries have developed a well-defined legal framework to deal with various aspects of coal mining. Coal is a nationalised resource in India, and Coal India Limited is the overseeing entity.
As a part of national capability building, Bangladesh should create a similar organisation. There are several acts, rules, and regulations directly applicable to coal mining in India, including the Mines Act 1952, Coal Mines Regulations 1952, Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act 1957 (with amendments), and Coal Mines (Conservation & Development) Act 1974. In addition, the Indian constitution provides necessary directives and powers to frame and enforce environmental legislation. The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) of India requires a mandatory public hearing before environmental clearance is issued for coal mining.
Similarly, there exist numerous acts, rules, and laws in the US to deal with all phases of coal mining, and the most important one coal is the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977. The SMCRA has five major components, namely standards and performance, permitting, bonding, inspection and enforcement, and land restrictions to mining. The Office of Surface Mining Environmental Protection Agency (OSMEPA) and various state agencies are involved in making rules, monitoring standards, and compliance with the standards by coal mining companies, and enforcement of laws.
Despite strict rules, regulations, and laws, severe damage to the environment was done by open-pit coal mining in both India and the US. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania in the US is the fourth largest coal mining state, which has been practicing mining using various methods for over 200 years.
Currently in Pennsylvania, more than 285,000 acres of abandoned coal mining land faces the need for an environmental clean up that will cost $16 billion. The number one water pollution problem in this state is related to acid mine drainage (AMD) that resulted from open-pit coal mining. More than 3,000 miles of rivers are void of aquatic life in Pennsylvania due to AMD. Can Bangladesh afford to have fish-less rivers because of AMD?
The most relevant question that the people of Bangladesh should ask before granting permission for open-pit coal mining is, what guarantee can a country like Bangladesh provide to her citizens about the unavoidable damage to the environment, when a country like the US, which has a set of mining laws in place, could not escape severe long-lasting water and soil quality damage? Bangladesh should formulate legal and organisational frameworks similar to those in the US and India before considering active coal mining, and being one of the most densely populated countries in the world it cannot afford to make the same mistakes that other countries made with regard to open-pit coal mining.
Currently, there is a proposed coal policy under review by the government. This policy was drafted by a private organisation, to promote export of coal and mining by foreign companies. The proposed policy advocates the export of two-thirds of the mined coal for the first 10 years, and one-third afterwards. As per the policy, the government will receive a royalty in the range of 6 to 16% (varies across different versions submitted to the government) for export of coal by foreign companies.
However, the fact is that Bangladesh cannot afford to export her coal, given the projected future need for energy in the country, let alone giving away the ownership rights to foreign companies for an insignificant amount of royalty. Coal export in the face of severe shortage of commercial energy resources and increasing demand will go directly against the interests of the people and national energy security. Furthermore, what Bangladesh does not need is a coal policy that contradicts the existing national energy policy of 2004. Instead, the national energy policy needs to be revised to incorporate a coal policy that will help achieve national energy security.
The most pressing issue is the method to be used for coal mining in Bangladesh. Based on publicly available information on socio-economic and environmental feasibility studies done on the possibility of open-pit coal mining in Phulbari and other coal fields in Bangladesh, it is safe to conclude that open-pit coal mining will cause huge economic loss, social unrest, and environmental degradation of unprecedented nature. There are several other viable alternatives to open-pit coal mining that are being practiced in various countries in the world. Given the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental settings, Bangladesh should consider a combination of underground coal mining, extraction of coal bed methane, and underground coal gasification (UCG) projects.
The UCG should be of particular interest for coal fields where coal seams are located at considerable depths, as in Phulbari and Jamalganj. The UCG has been used in the former USSR since the 1950s, and currently this process of mining is being applied in Australia, US, Europe, and Africa. Since UCG does not involve coal removal from underground, there is no need for relocating a huge number of people living in the coalfields. In addition, no damage is done to the environment. Although the amount of recovered coal may not be as high as it is for open-pit coal mining, considering the economic, social, and environmental losses, Bangladesh should seriously consider UCG for the deep coalfields. As per information provided by a leading organisation involved in UCG, this method is clean and cost effective.
Bangladesh is facing a serious challenge in terms of meeting the demands in the energy sector. To meet the national energy security needs, Bangladesh needs to build national capability, formulate legal and organisational frameworks, and mine coal so that she can retain and use the entire quantity to meet domestic energy needs. Finally, in such a national capability-based coal mining, Bangladesh needs to use coal mining methods that best suits the socio-economic, cultural, geologic, and environmental settings.
Md. Khalequzzaman is Associate Professor of Geology, Department of Geology and Physics, Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, US.