Huge coal reserves were discovered some twenty years ago in Thar Desert, a desolate area where sand is piled up into huge wind blown dunes, rising sometimes to 152 m above the ground level. There are proven reserves of 175 billion tons of coal embedded in the sands of Thar. Can this black mass of carbonaceous material turn a debt ridden Pakistan into an enormously rich, energy affluent, highly developed land? It’s a question which the people of Pakistan put before their leaders. How far are their leaders competent or possess the vision, is a question in itself!
BLACK GOLD IN PAKISTAN
by Hafeez R.M.
A knock at the door woke me up from a deep slumber. I opened the door and found Gulab Chandio, the jeep driver, with a tray of breakfast: barley bread, salty butter, sweet vermicelli, fried potatoes and tea. What else, one could ask for? Leisurely, I had my breakfast. No hurry. I just wanted to see Eldorado of Pakistan, a huge cache of coal or black gold buried under the sands of the Thar Desert in Sindh.
On a hired a jeep, I started my return journey from Nager Parkar, the farthermost town in Sindh, Pakistan. For about $40, the jeep would take me to Thar Coal Fields near Islamkot, about 100 km away. Since $40 was a lot of money for me, I faked bad health conditions and asked Chandio to drive slowly. It was a peaceful ride on asphalt road passing by sandy dunes covered with thorny bushes, small trees, herbs and grasses.
It was mid-winter, cool breeze was slipping by my face. There were occasional scenes of womenfolk carrying water in earthenware.
About 10 km before Islamkot, we spotted a turning with a rusty signboard of “Thar Coal” and drove towards that direction. For forty km, there was hardly any sign of coal mines but the usual animal grazing, women with their arms filled to the shoulders with bangles. In the backdrop were their villages, just a cluster of straw huts, circular and cylindrical with conical thatch roof on top.
UNDERGROUND COAL GASIFICATION
I passed by many abandoned sites like China Camp. These looked like ghost towns, reminiscent of Wild West where such crumbling structures have turned into a tourist attraction. At long last, a rigging operation was in sight and I asked the driver to get there.
Dr. Mubarakmand is the moving spirit behind the Underground Coal Gasification Project. Source: http://www.defence.pk
Leaving jeep at the edge, I walked over to the site and was greeted by an official wearing a hard hat. He was the site engineer and briefed me over the drilling operation undertaken by the Geological Survey of Pakistan under the direct supervision of a nuclear scientist, Dr. Samar Mubarkmand. The site-engineer pointed to two rigs which were drilling two adjacent boreholes into the coal seam. This would be followed by injecting pressurized oxidants like hot air in one of the holes to ignite the coal seam while recovering the combustion gases through the adjacent borehole.
He further informed me that the test-burn will be conducted this year for five megawatts electricity. In this process, coal is not mined or extracted rather plants are installed on deposits to produce gas.
In fact, the Thar coal was the most suitable for underground gasification and oil production, recalling that China was running eight similar fields very successfully, he said.
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