MAC: Mines and Communities

Bedding-down with the black stuff

Published by MAC on 2009-05-05

This week on MAC we post an exclusive piece of applied research which examines the potential of using Coal Bed Methane [CBM] and another technology known as Underground Coal Gasification [UCG] - to generate "clean power" for the people.

(See: "EXCLUSIVE:How coal may produce energy without being mined").

CBM isn't without its disadvantages, or potential for damage, as was demonstrated last month when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that companies "capturing" coal bed methane had been adversely affecting water supplied for farming.

However, UCG is now being promoted in India as a viable alternative to creating further havoc and poisoning from existing open-cast coal mining.

It remains to be seen whether either of these technologies will now be taken seriously elsewhere in Asia - notably in Bangladesh, where opposition to conventional coal extraction remains strident and strong.

Colorado Court: Coal Bed Methane Producers Need Water Permits

20th April 2009


DENVER, Colorado - The Colorado Supreme Court today ruled that coal bed methane producers must adhere to the same water rules and regulations as other state water users.

In 2005, two ranch families who own water rights in Archuleta and La Plata counties sued the State Engineer, arguing that he was acting illegally by failing to require BP America Production Company to get permits and water court approvals to pump tributary groundwater as part of the company's coal bed methane production.

Judge Gregory Lyman, the water judge in Durango, agreed and the State Engineer and BP appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

At issue in the appeal was whether the state District Court, Water Division erred in not deferring to the State Engineer's determination that the removal of water from geologic formations solely to facilitate coalbed methane mining operations is not a "beneficial use" within the State Engineer's Ground Water Act permitting authority.

For years, coal bed methane producers have been allowed to pump large amounts of groundwater connected to nearby streams, called tributary groundwater, as part of their extraction operations without a water right or approvals from the State Engineer and the water courts.

Coal bed methane is natural gas, 99 percent methane, that is generated and stored in coal seams. Water keeps the coal bed methane in place in underground formations. When groundwater is pumped, the gas is released from the formation and can be captured by producers.

Coal bed methane producers often re-inject most of the water underground, but in different, deeper formations, so the water is not available to other water users or the nearby streams as it was before the methane production.

A State Engineer permit and water court approval are usually required before tributary groundwater can be pumped. These approvals are designed to ensure that the water rights of others, including instream flow rights held by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, are not injured.

Coal bed methane producers have for years argued that they are not using the water but are simply "disposing" of it, therefore they are not subject to these requirements.

Today's ruling in Vance v. Wolfe affirms Judge Lyman's decision. The Colorado Supreme Court found that the extraction of tributary groundwater for coal bed methane production is a "beneficial use" of water that is subject to water rights administration and approvals by the water courts.

"This is a victory for both ranchers and our streams," said Mely Whiting, an attorney with the conservation group Trout Unlimited, which participated in the appeal in support of the ranchers.

"The decision sends a strong message that just because you are part of the oil and gas industry, you are not above and beyond Colorado water laws," she said.

Whiting gave credit for the ruling to the Vance and Fitzgerald families who brought the suit as well as to attorney Sarah Klahn of the Denver law firm of White & Jankowski, which specializes in natural resources law. "They did the lion's share of work, and they deserve congratulations for this important achievement," she said.

"The court made a sound ruling based on a common sense reading of Colorado law," said Bart Miller, with Western Resource Advocates, which participated by filing a "friend of the court" brief on the appeal.

"The decision implicitly recognizes the scarcity and value of water in Colorado," he said. "It's an important decision."

Phase 2 of Colorado's Statewide Water Supply Initiative estimates that by 2050, Colorado may need an additional 1.7 million acre-feet of water. Without new water supplies, it is estimated that 77 percent of agriculture will be dried up.

"Produced water and disposal should not be in the same sentence," says Pat O'Toole, a rancher in Savery, Wyoming, a state that is rich in coal bed methane. "Water is much too valuable a commodity. We need to embrace the reality that CBM development will produce water and that water can be cleaned at reasonable cost."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

Cleaning Up Coal

Tehelka Magazine (India), Vol 6, Issue 16,

25th April 2009

Coal gasification is an alternative extraction technology that can significantly green the Indian power sector, says SAUMIL SHARMA

WITH HEIGHTENED concern for global warming at last taking centre stage, unlike his predecessor, George Bush, US President Barack Obama agrees the issue needs immediate tackling: all major world economies are obliged to look for environmentally sustainable ways of energy sources to meet growing demand. India and China, now the world's biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases that account for a quarter of coal-combustion related global emission, need to be proactive in containing their emission levels.

This means making their energy sector both clean and green. A gasification plant in the United States. Clean Coal Limited has plans to work with Coal India It's not an easy task. Current energy consumption levels in India are heavily dependent on conventional coal mining, making it the most important energy source in India. About 70 percent of total electricity generation in India uses coal. It is also the most carbon-intensive fuel. The sector, therefore, continues to bear the blame for the maximum emission of greenhouse gases and for polluting water under and over the surface.

While it is hard to replace the need for coal, it is possible to develop and promote alternative technologies to produce cleaner fuel from the abundant coal deposits in the country. A good beginning is already on the cards, with power sector reform initiating the new paradigm of extracting fuel in ways other than conventional coal mining.

A US firm specialising in technical expertise and management of an alternative coal extraction process - Underground Gasification of Coal (UCG) - has now proposed a pilot project in Jharkhand. Negotiations between a set of companies under the banner Clean Coal Resources (CCR) and the Jharkhand Government are set to start soon after the Lok Sabha elections are over. The two parties will be looking to work out the operational details of the proposed project and a possible collaboration with the public sector, Coal India Limited, or its subsidiaries.

Seventy percent of electricity in India is from coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel UCG is an alternative technology for producing synthesis gas, or syngas. It exploits deep coal deposits that cannot be extracted by conventional coal mining techniques -by drilling holes, namely "injection" wells and a "production" well. The former is used to send oxygen steam to facilitate the combustion of coal deep beneath the surface, It leads to an exhaust of mixed gas composition, which comes out of the production well and is processed into syngas, which is further stored or channelled through pipelines. Graham Chapman, CEO of Clean Coal Ltd, strategic alliance partner of CCR, says: "We have identified our target countries by assessing the prevalence of coal resources that are difficult to mine and a requirement for power, which India meets."

After negotiating a workable project and successful testing of the pilot phase, CCR will move to commercial installation, generating enough syngas for supporting gas-fired power plants generating 300- 400MW of electricity. An estimated 46 percent of the coal deposits in India are concentrated in the Damodar river basin in Jharkhand, making it an attractive location for such an initiative. The state also offers a commercially viable market for syngas because it has many coal-fired power plants in the same belt.

Coal gasification is greener in every way than open cast and underground mining A big advantage of the UCG technology is that conventional mining can continue at shallower deposits, while UCG can be applied to deeper portions of the same field.

UCG was originally a development in the oil and natural gas industry for the production of synthetic natural gas. The technique has been incorporated in the research and development phase by Indian energy firms like Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Major breakthroughs in coal gasification techniques have proved that it's a viable alternative technology.

THE ICING on the cake is that it's greener in every way than both opencast and underground coal mining. UCG pilot projects have shown positive results with 95 percent recovery of coal resource, more than 75 percent energy recovery, and a consistent calorific value of syngas. Even better for environmentalists, even in the process of commercial testing, no groundwater or surface contamination has been reported.

Explaining the hazards of conventional mining in Jharkhand, onsite environmental researcher Nitish Priyadarshi quotes in a study: "Exploitation of coal by underground and opencast mining has lead to a great environmental threat in this area. Besides mining, coal-based industries like coal washeries, coke oven plants, coal fired thermal power plants, steel plants and other related industries in the region also greatly impart towards degradation of the environmental quality, vis-a-vis human health."

The presence of abundant deposits of coal and low mining cost has made non- OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries highly dependent on coal as the main source of energy for generation of electricity. India has about 51.8 billion tons of estimated available coal reserves for UCG, which make this alternative technology investment in India commercially attractive in the long term.

Surveys have been carried out and a pilot plant is under construction by an ONGC-state consortium in Gujarat. As a part of the Indian alternative energy policy, an Indo-Australian collaboration in UCG was announced in January 2009 and coal blocks in India are being allotted for UCG pilot and commercial projects to foreign and Indian companies.

After multiple phases of R&D in UCG, other countries too, such as Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, China and Mongolia, are now moving on to commercial installations of pilot projects. Uzbekistan has a successful running UCG coal-fired Angren power plant operating a dedicated 100MW steam turbine.

In India's specific case, although its coal deposits have low calorific value, the country's dependence on coal as fuel has been increasing rapidly in the last decade.

Conventional coal mining has therefore come under severe strain. The effect of coal mining in terms of environmental degradation and health issues among both residents and the workforce in coal mining areas has been severe. Almost half a million people (mostly unskilled labour) work in this sector, and it produces approximately 500 million tons of coal per year. In a time like the current global recession, it is essential that India promotes investment in the green sector to bolster growth and create stronger ties with the developed world.

But it is also a fact that the government has allowed 100 percent foreign direct investment in the power and the mining sector in India. In such a situation, what will be important is how the government regulates the revenue generated out of large-scale foreign investment in the sector. A policy shift in energy, towards cleaner fuels, or towards cleaner use of fuels such as coal, will certainly help temper the environmental impact - both within the country and on the planet.

Hasina asked to fulfil her pledge against open-pit mining: Power crisis ‘artificially created', ‘evil circle' in power ministry

Staff Correspondent,


22nd April 2009

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Tuesday requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to fulfil the commitment she had made as the leader of the opposition in 2006 to not allow open-pit mining in the country.

‘The former opposition leader and the incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, visited Phulbari in Dinajpur on September 4, five days after the Phulbari tragedy, and made a strong announcement that she would resist any move to operate any open-pit mine there as well as any other place in the country,' said the committee's convenor, Sheikh Md Shahidullah, at a discussion meeting in the National Press Club.

He said that Sheikh Hasina had also extended her full support to the agreement that the committee signed on behalf of people of Phulbari with the then BNP-led four-party government for cancelling the contract with Asia Energy for mining the Phulbari coal-field and for banning open-pit mining.

The then government signed the six-point Phulbari agreement with the committee, who represented the people of Phulbari, after three persons were killed on August 26, 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on people demonstrating against the Asia Energy's proposed open-pit mine at Phulbari.

Hasina held a public meeting in the premises of the Phulbari Government College on September 4 to protest against the killing. Influential AL leader Matia Chowdhury, who is now the agriculture minister, Mostafizur Rahman Fizar, who is now the state-minister for forest and environment, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal's president, Hasanul Haque Inu, were present at that meeting.

Shahidullah, at a the discussion meeting on Power Crisis, Evil Circle in Energy Ministry and Aggression of the Multi-National Companies, alleged that a minister, who is a relative of Hasina, had reportedly said that the open-pit mining was the only way to overcome the current energy crisis.

He said that energy shortage could be mitigated by underground mining of various coal-fields. ‘If we go for underground mining, we can extract 10-20 per cent of our coal reserve and with this amount we can meet our demand for 20 years. If we do open-pit mining, there will be environmental disaster and the extracted coal will have to be exported because of the high cost of extraction,' he claimed.

The member-secretary of the committee, Professor Anu Mohammad, said that the current power and energy crisis has been ‘artificially created' so that the country's gas- and coal-fields can be handed over to foreign companies on the plea of exploration and production. ‘It is like blackmailing the nation to force the launching of projects beneficial to the foreign companies,' he said.

The former director-general of the Power Cell, BD Rahmatullah, also claimed that the power crisis has been artificially created to push more controversial power projects like rental power plants.

He blamed the previous BNP-Jamaat government for failing to commission new power plants and observed that the present government had also failed to take any initiative to do so.

He also blamed the bureaucracy for the current crisis and observed that the secretariat should be ‘bombarded' to root out ‘hooligans'.

Shahidullah said that certain quarters were blaming the national committee for the delay in formulating the coal policy and awarding of offshore gas blocks. ‘It is the government, which is delaying, not we. The coal policy is being delayed so that it can be formulated in a way that will favour the multinational companies,' he observed.

‘We demand that the coal policy should be formulated immediately, keeping the peoples' interest in mind. The government should also scrap the bidding process for offshore blocks that took place during the tenure of the interim government and go for fresh bidding after framing a new model production sharing contract by taking the people's opinion,' he said.

He claimed that the PM's adviser, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, was the leader of the ‘evil circle' in the power and energy ministry, and the new chairman of Petrobangla, Muktadir Ali, was a ‘member' along with others, and demanded their removal.
 Justice Golam Rabbani, Professor Shamsul Alam, journalist Syed Abul Maksud and leftist leader Ruhin Hossain Prince were present on the occasion, along with others.

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