Our CBM, CMM projects also speak of mine safety

Written by Indronil Roychowdhury | Updated: Feb 11 2013, 08:35am hrs
As the technical arm of Coal India Ltd, the Central Mine and Planning Design Institute (CMPDI) is responsible for undertaking exploration of the countrys coal reserves. The government has recently increased the annual exploration target five times for the agency in a bid to expedite domestic coal production. Recently, it has also been given the job of exploring coal bed methane (CBM) reserves. But CMPDI is weighed down by the difficulties in securing forest clearances. CMPDI chairman AK Debnath speaks to FEs Indronil Roychowdhury about the operational targets set for the agency and the challenges facing it. Excerpts:

There is a lot of pressure on CIL to increase production. Is there any technological solution to the issue

CMPDI functions like the backbone of CIL. We are also the nodal agency for exploring and identifying non-CIL blocks, which are allotted to private players for captive use. We are also a nodal agency for coal bed methane ( CBM) reserves in the country. So you can understand the role we have to play in meeting the countrys energy needs. But as far as coal mining is concerned we do the entire planningfrom which mine has to be developed to how it has to be developed. We have the mandate to identify latest technologies and see what can be done to increase productivity. To increase coal production we will have to look for better technologies suited to Indian seam conditions. But there are hurdles like clearances from the ministry of environment and forests and problems of law and order, which are coming in the way of increasing coal production.

What are the environmental hurdles in carrying out exploration activities

At every step we have to take the MoEF clearance. We need to get access to forest lands to identify areas for developing and expanding mines. The MoEF doesnt allow taking our drilling machines inside the forests. So what do we do!

CMPDI has been asked to step up exploration work. Can you meet the target

Its a huge challenge. CMPDI has been doing an average 3 lakh meters exploration per annum. But last year we achieved 5 lakh metres of underground exploration. Now the Planning Commission has asked us to achieve 15 lakh metres of (underground) exploration per annum by 2017. For this we need to dig 20 bore holes per sq km or 15 at the least. Now the MoEF is sticking to its criteria of allowing digging of only one bore hole per sq km or a maximum average of 1.5 bore holes per sq km and there is no way of making extensive and proper explorations without digging bore holes. The coal ministry has already taken it up with the PMO we are now waiting for the PMO to act on it.

Can you tell us about your drilling programme

Right now we are carrying out drilling activities in 45 blocks and drilling is pending in 38 blocks. This (pending) number was 21 last year. Now we have been allotted 175 more blocks for undertaking exploration, of which 119 are CIL blocks and the rest are non-CIL ones. But all these blocks are in forest land. We have no idea how long it will take to get access to these blocks.

You are also involved on the CBM programme. What exactly are you doing there right now

India has very good prospects in methane and the government has already awarded 33 blocks in four rounds of auction. At present the country is producing 2.5 lakh cubic metres of methane gas per day and till the fourth round 1.8 trillion cubic metres of methane reserves have been awarded for extraction. This reserve covers an area of about 17,000 kms. CMPDI is finalizing the data dossier for the fifth round of CBM block auction and we are doing this for the directorate general of hydrocarbon.

But there are problems regarding ownership of the blocks

This issue has been cleared. Methane extracted from running mines will be under the control of CIL and CMPDI and such methane will be called coal mine methane or CMM and methane extracted from coal seams, which are not mined, will be under the control of the petroleum and natural gas ministry. Such methane is CBM. But coal from the CBM blocks will be mined at a much later stage. The CBM blocks awarded in the first round of auction will be mined for coal in 2036-37. By that time the mines will be entirely de-gasified and coal mining will become much safer. Generally before mining all mines have to be de-gasified and the methane, if goes into the air, releases tremendous carbon. Utilising one tonne of methane means preventing 25 tonne of carbon-dioxide from going to the air. So our CBM and CMM projects also speak of mine safety and pollution mitigation.

What is the status of CMM projects

We will shortly offer CMM blocks for the first round of bidding. In April last year CMPDI floated a tender offering CMM blocks but the Petroleum and Natural Gas ministry raised objection and claimed control over the blocks. The issue has been sorted out and CMM blocks are under the dispensation of the coal ministry. We will go for retendering offering blocks with 30 billion cubic metres of total reserves.