Disappointment over SA coal
Johannesburg - The coal industry is disillusioned about the potential of the coal deposits in the Waterberg.
It will be a nightmare to mine the deposit and it should perhaps just remain the ground, suggested the Central Energy Fund's Dr Chris Cooper at Tuesday's Fossil Fuel Foundation conference on the future of South African coal in the light of climate change.
The Ellisras Basin had previously promised to be the coal industry's salvation, but it now appears that the reserves will be extremely difficult and costly to mine.
Exxaro's Groottegeluk coal mine outside Lephalale (Ellisras) is situated on a fortunate spot, Cooper explained, but mining the rest would be horrifying.
He observed that various negative features such as the geology and hydrology of the environment make the Waterberg coal virtually impossible to extract. The lack of water is a significant factor.
According to Xavier Prevost, coal analyst at the XMP consultancy, recent exploration in the area has indicated that the Waterberg has some 33bn tons of coal deposits, representing 11% of the country's reserves.
Prevost points out that the reserves are 500km from the country's industrial heartland and the environment is without infrastructure. He also reckons the lack of water is mining's biggest constraint.
Experts who attended the conference said that if the coal in the Waterberg could not be exploited it would put both Sasol's coal-to-liquid (CTL) plant and the Medupi power station in extremely difficult positions.
Prevost explains that the country needs additional coal mines to meet the growing export demand, as well as for domestic electricity consumption and Sasol's existing CTL plant.
The Mpumalanga reserves have been virtually exhausted and the first of the major coal mines in the area will have to shut down by 2020.
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