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Once an energy surplus country today it faces a circular debt of Rs 5.725 trillion, in addition to the power shortfall of Rs 2.703 trillion. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has unsustainable and unaffordable gas and power tariffs which are out of reach of its citizens, resulting in financial strains leading all the way to bankruptcy.

After the discovery of huge Natural Gas deposits at Sui in the year 1952 it was the start of a new era of clean and readily available clean fuel. At 12 TCF (Trillion Cubic Feet) it was considered as one of the largest finds of its time.

Today the Islamic republic has a large gas transmission and distribution network of the world, designed, built, and maintained by indigenous engineering know-how, which is spread over thousands of kilometres of underground pipelines. Due to mismanagement and waste the resource was consumed much ahead of its life. It should have lasted till 2052 (100 years) but was unfortunately blown away by 2002 (50 years).

The power sector went through a similar cycle of rip-off after unbundling of WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) in the decade of the nineties.

While a new entity PEPCO (Pakistan Electric Power Company) was created to manage thermal power, only hydel power generation and building of dams remained with the authority. Both failed to perform their effective role. Neither dams were built, nor thermal power units installed.

In the year 2002 the Energy Foresight Committee was formed by the Planning Commission. As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), I was tasked to look at the coal option. To reach consensus a summit meeting was arranged with all the players in the field.

Large-scale commercial mining was identified as the major challenge. Despite its discovery about a decade ago the 175 billion Tons of the black gold hidden under a shallow depth of 150 Meters remained un-explored. During my visit to the brotherly Muslim country Bosnia, I visited Coal mines and power plants for possible joint venture.

In the year 2004 a plan was prepared for mining at Thar. With support of the federal government establishment of Sindh Mining Company was proposed with a professional board working under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister (CM). The then minister of mines kept insisting on power generation with no interest in mining.

Every natural resource is unique and poses its own challenge. At Thar the challenge was to deal with water present above the coal seam. To obtain bulk samples a bold effort was made by implanting an 8ft dia concrete shaft to reach the resource.

Unfortunately, the water could not be pumped out by the installed low energy pumps. The contractor requested for additional funds to install high energy dewatering systems, but it was rejected. The abandoned shaft is still there as a bold reminder of the great effort by a nationalist professional. With my background and experience in large-scale commercial mining I continued with my crusade even after expiry of my term in 2005 as Chairman PSF.

In the year 2009 our proposal to build a test mine was approved by the Planning Commission but digging could not be started due to application of the untested UCG Technology (Under Ground Coal Gasification) which resulted in waste of time and resources.

Finally, the first mine became operational in Block II under public-private partnership of Government of Sindh and ENGRO Corporation. SECMC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) started to provide coal for power generation in the year 2018 followed by Sino Sindh Resources in Block I. Coal is now readily available.

In October 2023 the black gold was successfully gasified with the assistance of experts in South Africa. The tried and tested process of above ground ‘Pyrolysis ‘ was applied. After mining and gasification, the resource can meet all our energy needs.

This spiralling circular depth and the energy rip-off can be checked by use of our indigenous resource. While combustion of coal is not environment friendly, gasification renders it clean. India has a huge coal sector. It generates over 50% to power by burning coal while it has also started a project to gasify 100,000 tons per year. For developing countries use of coal is a viable option but with 21st century clean technologies. Affordable energy is the basic building block of a nation which has been denied to the people of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, despite these spiraling circular debts there seems to be no urgency or game plan to come out of this trap. Pakistan is moving towards insolvency while the policymakers are daydreaming. In the recently held International Pittsburgh Coal Conference (IPCC 2023) it was reported that coal is here to stay but with the application of clean technologies.

Close to $ 5 trillion has been spent on research in the last decade to replace the hidden treasures of black gold but so far, the results are not as desired. To support the base load, thermal energy is here to stay till large scale in-expensive energy systems are developed for storage of power generated by renewable resources like solar and wind.

Shakespeare rightly said; “All that glitters is not gold”, for us the black gold of Thar has the potential of providing us the glitter that we need to repair the economic fissures that have been forced upon us by the corrupt and the greedy who have exploited the nation by cashing in on our weaknesses. Even the lender of last choice IMF (International Monetary Fund) has spoken; “Pakistan needs major energy reforms”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Dr Farid A Malik

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation; email:[email protected]


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