MAC: Mines and Communities

Cooking up an Asian coal storm

Published by MAC on 2010-08-30
Source: Courier Inforfmation Services (2010-07-20)

Thai company allies with Burmese military

It may seem "small beer" by some standards.

The 3 million tons of lignite, planned to be mined from a Burmese deposit each year, is only a minor fraction of current output from several Chinese, Indonesian or Indian mines.

However, for the Thai company behind the project and their partners in the Burmese military it's clearly an important venture - and one with political implications.

For the Thai villagers along the project's transport route, it would mean dust, dirt and damage.

Even worse lies in store for Burmese communities residing closer to the proposed mine.

But it goes without saying that, by living under the most repressive regime in south Asia, their protests haven't been heard - nor are they likely to be.

Mammoth coal mine planned for Mong Kok

Courier Inforfmation Services

20 July 2010

Plans by a coal mining company owned by Thailand's Ital-Thai Group to develop a mine in eastern Shan state that could produce over three million tons of coal a year appear to be gathering force.

Ital-Thai's Saraburi Coal Mining Co, which already operates a coal mine near Mawtaung in Taninthayi division in Burma, has had its eye on a thermal coal deposit in the Nam Kok river valley of Mong Hsat township for several years now.

The deposit near Mong Kok, 25 km NE of Mong Hsat, is estimated to contain as much as 150 million tons of lignite coal. Saraburi will ship coal from the Mong Kok mine to the city of Saraburi in central Thailand where it will be used as fuel in cement factories.

Residents along the proposed route in northern Thailand are angry about having 10-wheelers that would transport up to 5,000 tons of coal a day rolling through their villages. They are calling for a ban on shipping the coal in their area.

An article in the Bangkok Post on July 20 quoted Wanchai Sirichana, rector of Mae Fah Luang university where a meeting was held to protest the coal shipments, as saying that villagers are worried about the emission of dust from the lignite and the threat of water pollution if the coal is dumped and stored in their area. They are also concerned about heavy traffic along regional roads that are already in constant use.

But it appears that not all of the coal mined by Saraburi at Mong Kok will be sent to Thailand. In November 2008, delegates at an ADB-sponsored seminar on electric power connectivity plans in the Mekong sub-region were treated to a slide-show presentation by their Myanmar counterparts that pin-pointed a steam-driven generating plant also to be built at Mong Kok.

The station was projected to have a generating capacity of 270 megawatts. Depending on the heating quality of the coal used, a thermal plant of this size could use between 1.5 and 1.8 million tons of coal a year if operated a full capacity.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn by seminar delegates was that the Mong Kok thermal plant, as well as potential hydropower facilities in border areas of the country pictured on the same slide set, were just waiting to be developed by Myanmar's power hungry neighbours.

Little has been made public about the proposal to develop the lignite mine at Mong Kok apart from the uproar caused by Saraburi's plans to ship the coal from Mong Kok through northern Thailand.

This is hardly surprising since the coal company's partner in the scheme to mine the deposit is the secretive Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) owned by active-duty personnel of Myanmar's military forces. MEC is already Saraburi's partner at the Mawtaung coal mine close to border at the steel-mining city of Prachuab Khir Kan in southern Thailand and Ital-Thai has a another concession to develop a 600-MW hydropower plant along the Taninthayi river in the same region.

To view the proposed location of the Mong Kok mine and power plant:

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