"The irresponsible behaviour shown towards our abundant coal reserves is unpatriotic and it warrants a judicial inquiry."

Nov 27 - Dec 03, 2006

More than half of the electricity (52 per cent)is generated by the world's most advanced country, the United States of America, by using coal. In China coal is a source of 78 per cent of the country's total energy needs, including cooking, heating and power generation. Thus coal is the main source of energy in China. Similarly, Australia and India meet 77 per cent of their electricity needs from coal.

The scenario of different energy resources being put to use is briefly given as under:

Coal - 8 percent
Natural gas - 51 percent
Oil - 29 percent
Hydro-electricity - 11 percent
Nuclear energy 1 percent (approx.)

Coal has been the oldest source of energy for domestic and industrial sectors as well as fuel for road and rail transport. Tracing back the share of coal in overall energy mix during the last five decades in Pakistan, it transpired that this was 68 per cent in 1948, which declined to 35 per cent in 1958 and then it drastically came down to 5 per cent in the year 2002.

This situation reveals the shortcomings behind our trade imbalance. Consequently, there was $12 billion trade deficit mainly because of the costly import bill of oil. Such blunders should at last make our policy makers wise enough to control our imports of oil for power and instead replace it by our indigenous coal as far as possible. The two main sources of electricity generation in Pakistan now are hydro and thermal. Hydel energy is obtained from water and thermal from fossil fuel (oil, natural gas or coal). A number of chemical and cement plants, which were operating on coal, were converted to natural gas in late 1960s and subsequently to furnace oil. More than 80 per cent of vehicular transport is diesel-fed and the government now plans to switch them to CNG.

While it is a worrying reality that fossil fuel resources are rapidly depleting in the world, different countries are planning to generate energy from the sun, wind and other sources. As far as natural gas resources of Pakistan are concerned, they are also limited and we would be having a crunch after 15-20 years to maintain our gas fuel supply, including CNG supply. Even now-a-days domestic consumers complain about the low pressure of gas supply during winter, what to speak of industrial sector. Sui Northern Gas is preparing pre-feasibility report for two gasification plants to be installed at Bhakkar (Punjab) by utilizing coal from Salt Range and Makkarwal coal-mines in collaboration with German companies, whose representatives had visited the area and collected samples for laboratory tests in Germany.

Some engineers of SNGPL have also visited Germany in this connection.

The present socio-economic scenario is compelling the government to maximize its energy reliance on coal. For a common man payment of electricity bills has become well nigh impossible. Industrial, commercial and domestic sectors have all been hard hit by high tariff rates of electricity, which are ultimately affecting the public. Commuters also find it difficult to pay the rail and road fares in their routine travelling.

Pakistan, by the grace of God, is blessed with 185 billion tons of coal resources against the world's coal reserves of 909 billion tons. Pakistan is ranked as seventh amongst the coal possessing countries in the world. Eighty-five per cent of the total resources of the country's coal, that is 3192 million tons, are lying in Thar, District Tharparker, Sindh. Larkana coal-field is the second biggest field. In spite of these abundant resources of coal, our rulers are running in pursuit of IPI oil and gas pipelines and are busy talking tall on exploring alternative energy resources, import of electricity and gas from Central Asian states. They have so far been unable to achieve anything tangible. In the meantime our energy consumption has nearly tripled during the last 20 years. Power breakdowns in the country are almost a routine. The recent power breakdown throughout the country has given a great jolt and frequent power outages in big cities, especially in Karachi, which is a serious reminder to our rulers to focus their undivided attention on the renovation and rectification of WAPDA's and KESC's transmission and distribution systems as well as on additional power generation. Running from pillar to post without achieving anything is a futile exercise. Why shouldn't we use our indigenous resources, especially of coal for power generation to meet the challenge. "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush".

Although hydel electricity is much cheaper than thermal power, mega dams urgently needed to be constructed to cater to the country's water and power requirements like the highly trumpeted Kalabagh dam the on which could not be started owing to inter-provincial prejudices and speculations of smaller provinces against Punjab.

In Pakistan mining has not been developed on industrial level as it is mainly controlled and operated by small mine owners, who are neither technically capable nor financially sound to make headway in this sector. As regards our potentials, coal reserves have placed Pakistan ahead of many major oil-producing countries of the world. Discovered as early as 1992, with a spread over of 9,000 kilometers, high quality coal reserves in Sindh are sufficient to meet the country's requirement for not less than one century. It is ironical that successive governments confined themselves only to the signing of MOU's. Reportedly, as many as nine companies including Sumitomo of Japan, Siemens and Reinhaul of Germany, AES Corporation of the U.S., AlJumaih Group of Saudi Arabia and Malakoff of Malaysia have so far submitted their statements of qualification for setting up a 1000-1200 MW power project in Sindh.

Shenhua Group of China working on a 600 MW power plant at Lakhra, after a good deal of work on feasibility studies and surveys, left mid-way because of failing to reach an agreement with WAPDA on power tariff structure. In spite of efforts at the highest level, the project could not be revived while it was scheduled for commissioning in 2009. A German company had estimated in 2003 that coalfields of Thar in Block-I alone were adequate enough to provide a 1000 MW power plant for over half a century. The then Sindh Minister for Mines and Minerals himself paid a visit to Germany to witness the technological viability of the company. But there was nothing to be heard thereafter. That is how our governments and bureaucracy work.

The latest MoU signed with a Canadian company - Cathy Oil & Gas - for commercialization of coal bed methane demonstrates a high profitability of the project. We can only pray for its success. In spite of vociferous tall claims of our rulers that we are not a "status quo" nation, they are constantly and perpetually failing in implementing the projects of great national interest. Some intellectuals and analysts are of the opinion that it is because of the reservations and indifference of oil & gas companies against coal and some attribute it to our bureaucratic limbo and vested interests.

Whatever the cause may be, the irresponsible behaviour shown towards our abundant coal reserves is unpatriotic and it warrants a judicial inquiry for identifying the real causes behind the failure of those responsible to cater to the urgent need of meeting power shortfall, which is growing annually at the rate of 6-7 per cent and which will rise to 1000 MW from 2007 onwards. Individuals as well as groups responsible for this criminal neglect must be taken to task as such acts tantamount to dishonesty, which is not forgivable.