Black gold that glitters

William Shakespeare said; “All that glitters is not gold.” In the 16th century, Shakespeare came to the conclusion that appearances can be deceptive.
The moral-laden story of the stag who was proud of his horns and apologetic about his thin ugly legs has always been ignored by successive generations of mankind. When attacked by the hounds the trapped stag ran fast to save his life, but the horns got stuck in the bushes causing his annihilation. The pride of his horns caused his downfall.
Since the 1985 fateful, party-less elections, we have been chasing the glitters by our overgrown horns while ignoring our legs which are essentially required for mobility and safety to survive and prosper. I vividly remember the words of my late mother; “Your life is in your legs.”
Unfortunately, in her later years when she refused to walk, I kept on reminding her of her own words but she was disinterested and responded by saying; “We will perish before you get to know.” Indeed, it was the end of her journey, she was preparing for the next. As a nation, our stagnation can signal the end of our journey.
Glitter, appearance, deceit and short-term gains have been the norm in the land of the pure since the dreadful night of July 05, 1977, when Zia deposed the elected government of Bhutto on the promise of holding elections within the stipulated period of 90 days. His misruled stretched over 11 years. Finally, when he perished in August 1988 there was a sigh of relief but the damage had been done. Most civilian institutions were rendered non-functional. Crisis after crisis became the norm.
However, the Sui Gas reserve which was a gift from the founding fathers provided much-needed fuel for the country. Discovered in 1952 at 12 TCF (Trillion Cubic Feet), it was one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world which should have lasted for 100 years.
Due to gross mismanagement and misuse, it was reduced to 2 TCF in 2002 creating a serious energy crisis. Currently, LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) is being imported from Qatar. Once an energy surplus nation, today the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is out of fuel.
In the year 1991, the Thar Coal field was discovered by the joint exploration teams of the Geological Survey of Pakistan and the United States Geological Survey. At 175 billion tons it is one of the world’s largest deposits that remained unexplored as Sui Gas was readily available since its discovery in 1952. When the commission and kickback hounds came after us we were left with no indigenous fuel option. Like the Stag our horns got stuck, we neither had fuel nor the money to import it.
In the year 2004, the Planning Commission under the professional leadership of Dr Akram Sheikh formed an Energy Foresight Committee. As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) I was tasked to review the potential of Thar Coal as an energy resource for the country.
With water above and below the Coal seam, mining was identified as a big challenge. There were several other unconfirmed false myths about the deposit that were floating around. There was organized propaganda against the use of our own energy resources as under:
Coal is high in Sulphur at 1 percent it is untrue; Due to the presence of water above the coal seam it is not mineable, now two mines are operational after pumping out the water; With high moisture content (40 percent) Coal has low heating value, with air drying the moisture can be drastically reduced (10 percent); Gasification of Coal is a serious challenge, Coal was successfully gasified in Lahore, full characterization is underway in South Africa). All false myths have been proven wrong, the Black Gold is glittering to meet our energy needs.
Thar coal is indeed the energy game changer for Pakistan, it may not glitter but it is Gold for an energy-starved nation that had over $ 20 billion for the import of fuel last year causing a serious trade deficit and budget imbalance. Since 2004 it has been a crusade for me to fight through the entrenched impediments and vested groups that have always come in the way of our development and growth.
In 1952 our founding fathers gifted us with the Sui Gas deposit, in the year 2023 we will leave no stone unturned till the black gold of Thar provides us the much-needed energy security and autarky. Dakota Gasification Company in North Dakota uses similar Coal to produce SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas), Diesel, Urea, Naphtha, Phenol, Tar Oil, Ammonium Sulphate, Anhydrous Ammonia and Liquid Nitrogen.
With the discovery of Shale Gas in the USA currently SNG at $ 6 per MMBTU is not feasible for them but for us it is viable as the cost of imported LNG has crossed $ 20 per MMBTU which is beyond our reach. Combustion of Coal is considered outdated but Gasification is the best way forward to reduce our energy import bill. The glittering Black Gold can be put to use, fuel should only be imported for transportation purposes and all other needs should be met indigenously.
Food and fuel are the basic needs of the nation that have to be within reach of the common man. Due to defective policies of the past, the country produces the most expensive electricity and gas which are unaffordable causing huge circular debt.
It is payback time with our own Black Gold waiting to be mined and then used with the application of environment-friendly 21st-century technologies. Spread over an area of around 1000 square Kilometers Thar has the potential of being the energy center of the entire region.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

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