Trio of forces behind Botswana coal failure

Coal junior miners, the Botswana government, and Eskom were all to blame in part for the failure of Botswana’s fledgling coal industry to live up to the promises made about its development over the past decade.

That’s according to mining consultant Peet Meyer of PC Meyer Consulting who told a Fossil Fuels Foundation conference held in Johannesburg yesterday the widely-quoted figure estimating that Botswana hosted declared coal resources totalling 212 billion tons was “bull and nonsense.”

Meyer is an exploration geologist who has previously worked for Anglo American Corporation, BHP Billiton and Total Coal. Since 2007, he has done consulting and contracting work for coal companies operating in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.

According to Meyer, a key problem lies in the misuse of terminology used to define coal resources and reserves which was “misleading”. Referring to updated JORC (Joint Ore Reserves Committee) guidelines published late last year, Meyer commented: “There is no such thing as a JORC compliant resource statement.

“It’s terminology that crept into many reports... it is potentially misleading and it has misled. The correct term should be ‘reported in accordance with the JORC code’, ” he said. Meyer drew a hard line between coal resources and coal “inventory” which carries a far lower ranking in terms of the accuracy of estimation.

“That 212 billion tons in Botswana is not there and, if it is there, it is coal inventory. It is not a number that should even be in the public domain. There is no justification for that estimate because 77% of it is accounted for as (being at a) hypothetical speculative level.”

Meyer pointed a finger at the Botswana government for not delivering on promises made in 2006 to facilitate the delivery of infrastructure, specifically the Trans-Kalahari railway line, and at Eskom for not delivering on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding development of CIC Energy’s Mmababula project.

This would have supplied power to the South Africa grid via Eskom from a combined colliery and power station development in eastern Botswana.

Said Meyer: “When that MOU became public Cosatu said to Eskom if you build that power station in Botswana we will make this country ungovernable. You do not develop projects like that in a neighbouring country while we sit here with unemployment.

“That whole MOU fell flat. Everybody is waiting for Eskom to take coal out of Botswana but it’s not going to happen because the trade unions won’t allow it.” Meyer added: “I view myself as being realistic rather than negative. Prove me wrong somebody. This has been going on for 10 years.

“I like to look at the situation where the tyre hits the tar and that’s when you start doing mining scheduling and all the academic stuff and the comfort that has gone into resources statements is filtered out and realism sets in.”

Referring to junior mining companies which had declared inferred resources of billions of tonnes of coal, Meyer said each deposit probably had a mineable resource of about 100 million tons. He added, “companies do not accept the fact that you cannot report the billions of tons ... you tell them what the Code says and they say ‘stuff the code – I want the billions of tons’”.(Miningmx)

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