Petrobangla, the state-owned oil, gas and mineral resources corporation is set to re-examine the pros and cons of open-pit mining at Barapukuria North, as it felt that the feasibility study report of the Institute of Water Modelling (IWM) has not addressed the agriculture and environmental issues, Energy Ministry sources said.
According to the sources the Ministry of Agriculture has expressed great concern about the report of the IWM as it did not match the "terms of reference (TOR)" of the study. "We can go in for open-pit mining in the northern part of the
Barapukuria coalfield, subject to the technical feasibility study on mining issues and the economic viability of water pumping with respect to biodiversity and ecological stress on food production and their impact on the gross domestic product (GDP). Otherwise, how can we assess the profit and loss of a project? The study has failed to discuss these aspects," he added.
With the aim of opening up the northern part of the Barapukuria coalfield on a "small scale," the Energy Ministry had launched the initiative 10 years ago. To endorse the plan, it formed different committees and completed two studies, but failed to reach any conclusion. In its third attempt, it engaged the IWM to complete water modelling to preclude any controversy over the method of coal extraction.
"The IWM has discussed the water lifting and management issue and as per report we could go for a small scale venture at Barapukuria but the mining issues is related to various aspects including agriculture and environment, unfortunately the report failed to discuss the issue, however, we asked them to go for detailed one," Petrobangla's former chairman Md Mosharrof Hossain, who is the coordinator of the government monitoring committee that guided the IWM's survey, told The Daily Observer on Tuesday.
Energy Ministry sources said that they are planning to engage consultant to do the job as it's a mammoth one, however, the Petrobangla is yet to take any step in this regard.
"The authorities of the Barapukuria Coal Mine Company (BCMC) have rejected the feasibility study report of the Institute of Water Modelling (IWM) on open-pit mining at Barapukuria North, as it did not match the study's "terms of reference (TOR). But we should remember that North Bengal is our main food bowl so we should be more cautious before taking any such decision that may jeopardise the food security of the country," a senior official of Energy Ministry said.
"This study is not enough to assess the impact of open-pit mining as it is a highly technical issue. Once again, we want to complete a geo-technical feasibility study before taking any decision on open-pit mining in this area," Mosharrof said.
According to Petrobangla, it was mentioned in the TOR that the study, covering an area of 2.81 sq km, would assess the impact on the groundwater level as a result of dewatering, irrigation and supply of drinking and industrial water. It would find out possible remedial measures for underground sustainability through different opinion studies and recommend developing mine water management systems. "But the report did not touch on the irrigation and crop issues of the affected areas, which have a great impact on mine design," an official said.
Though the IWM report said an area of some 560 sq km of Barapukuria would be impacted if the government decides to open Barapukuria North for open-pit mining and the water table of the areas would go down from seven metres to more than 30 metres at different points, but to make it operational, it would require de-watering from 400 million cubic metres (mmc) to 232mmc every year.
"The IWM report gave us some sort of relief, as we found the water flow to be almost half of what we had assumed. But a geo-technical issue is a must. After that, we will start the other related task," Mosharrof said.
Bangladesh has five coalfields with around 2.55 billion tonnes of reserves, but has been unable to extract the mineral since a national coal policy has not been finalised yet. The Barapukuria coalfield has reserves of around 389 million tonnes, but only 10 to 12 per cent of this can be extracted with the underground method.
The report said over 90 per cent of the total reserves can be extracted through open-pit mining. Underground mining can produce less than 25 per cent. The northern part has estimated reserves of 135 million tonnes of coal.
"The surface of the Barapukuria coal seam starts at the level of 118 metres. It gradually grows in depth of up to 503 metres," geologist Dr Mushfiqur Rahman said earlier.
The report of the experts' committee said the coal seam deposited 200 metres under the surface would be extracted through the open-pit method. The underground mining method would be chosen for those deposits when that depth is more than 200 metres.