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In the 21st century the universe we live in is going through an energy transition. While the West after depleting most of their coal resources is moving towards gas most developing countries, including Pakistan, are moving in the direction of coal. With the grand discovery of Natural Gas in the year 1952 a bonanza of clean affordable energy was delivered to the people of the struggling republic.

At an estimated size of 12 TCF (Trillion Cubic Feet) it was one of the largest deposits of its times which was meant to last for over a century (1952 to 2052). Due to mismanagement the reservoir was depleted in half of its mandated life (2002). Gas is now being imported from Qatar through international bidding.

First it is liquefied (LNG) then re-gasified (RLNG) after it reaches its destination on the Karachi Port where it enters the extensive gas transmission and distribution network of the country operated by SSGC (Sui Southern Gas Company) and SNGPL (Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Company). Imported fuel creates serious security and sustainability concerns, which must be addressed.

In the recently concluded Paris conference on environment, Europe has decided to pull out from the use of the ‘ Black Gold ‘ that fuelled the entire Industrial Revolution after the renaissance in Europe in the 17th century. With industry came prosperity but at the cost of the environment, which is now being checked.

Till today Pakistan remains to be a gas-fuelled country despite huge reserves of coal at Thar (175 billion tons). Due to imported fuel the circular debt has crossed the Rs 7 trillion mark (Gas + Power). Using the abundant deposits of this ‘Black Gold’ the country can switch over to a ‘coal-based system’ by using 21st century ‘clean technologies’. Gasification is the way forward for an energy-starved nation.

Change is the only factor that remains unchanged in the world driven by technology. Nations that understand these dynamics move forward while rest stagnate and perish. In order to transport energy, the West decided to ‘gasify coal’.

Most European countries produced ‘town gas’ (Co + H2), which was then transported through pipeline. Coal and its gasification provided the much-needed energy to the West. With availability of Natural Gas in Russia and Ukraine, the European Union (EU) has now decided to use this energy resource combined with Green Energy. A transformation is on the way from the use of coal to gas.

With its depleted gas reserves, Pakistan is now moving in the direction of widespread use of abundantly available domestic coal at Thar. Mining challenges have been overcome. Two mines are now operational. Power generation has started. Coal continues to be the most used energy source to produce power. About 56% the electricity in the world is produced by combustion of this ‘Black Gold’ with China and India being the largest users.

Both countries have now started to gasify this resource for widespread use. India plans to convert 100, 000 tons of coal every year to gas.

Above ground gasification is a established technology widely in use for about a century while UCG (Underground Coal Gasification) still remains a challenge for researchers in this area. Unfortunately, this unproven technology was applied at Thar which resulted in waste of precious time and energy. Commercial discipline and viability must be kept in mind for large-scale application, which was ignored in this case. The project is now under scrutiny and investigation.

Pakistan is now ready to move from coal to gas by use of its own resource with application of proven above ground ‘gasification’ technologies. Samples from Thar were sent to South Africa where they have successfully ‘gasified’, paving the way for widespread use of this ‘Black Gold ‘.

The heating or Calorific Value (CV) of gas produced is above the CV of currently used Sui Gas (920 versus 925 Btu per lb), which makes it readily useable in the current pipeline network of the country. In 1952 it was the discovery of the gas that changed our lives; today Thar coal can play the same role.

The slogan being ‘Thar Badlay Ga Pakistan’. Inexpensive reliable energy is the way forward, which cannot be ignored. SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) produced from this deposit can effectively replace the expensive, imported LNG (Liquified Natural Gas).

Pakistan needs gas to glitter which the ‘Black Gold ‘ of Thar can provide. It is the gift of nature waiting to be exploited for its full potential. While the founding fathers gifted our generation with Sui Gas, Thar will be our contribution to the coming generations, our children and theirs.

175 tons of ‘Black Gold’ can cater for the energy needs of the nation for at least one century. Energy security is vital for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to stand tall on its own feet. Debt is death for a developing country. Thar can bail us out of this trap.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Dr Farid Malik

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

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