Potential promise

February 22, 2015

There is lack of planning and technological resources to fully exploit Pakistan’s natural resources

Potential promise

Based on available information, the country’s more than 600,000 square kilometres of projected area has geological potential for metallic and non-metallic mineral deposits.

The Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) estimates that mineral reserves, mapped so far, are between USD 12 to 15 trillion. One of the senior officials of GSP tells TNS that these are careful estimations. "The average recovery ratio with current technology is 30 per cent which means Pakistan’s potential in minerals sector is at least USD 5 trillion," he says.

At the time of independence, only six mineral commodities, including chromite, coal, sulphur, gypsum, limestone, and salt were being mined in Pakistan. Now, large-to-medium scale production of over 60 mineral commodities has started out of 92 known minerals in the country.

"Inexhaustible resources of gypsum, fire clay, china clay, earth rock salt, basalt, bentonite, building stone, and construction materials are available in all the provinces and are being utilised in large quantities."

The major production is of coal, rock salt, and other industrial and construction minerals. The current contribution of minerals sector to the GDP is less than one per cent (about 0.5 percent). Traditional methods of mining and a lack of efficient regulatory framework make the mineral sector less productive.

"The qualities of non-metallic materials and building stones are high, and the purity of metallic ores are above average to high in Pakistan," says a senior official of the ministry of natural resources and petroleum. "Excavation of these minerals is a problem. We need to develop human resource as well as road infrastructure to exploit these resources."

Balochistan, for example, has more than half of the national potential in mining, yet it contributes just over one-fifth to the national mining GDP. The province lacks skilled human resource as well as communication infrastructure to exploit its resources. The total allocation in the development budget for the mining sector in the province is only one billion rupees for 2014-15.

"In order to attract foreign investment, federal and provincials governments have to create an environment in which foreign investors are reassured of security." says a report of Pakistan Minerals Working Group of Canada-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce.

According to a report of the federal ministry of natural resources and petroleum, 185 billion tones of resources of coal, 6000 million tones of copper, 1656 million tones of gold, 618 million tones of silver, 23.72 million tones of lead-zinc, 0.597 million tones of manganese, 2.527 million tones of chromite, 1400 million tones of iron ore, and precious and semi-precious stones have been identified in different parts of the country.

Minerals are being excavated on a small scale and, as such, the full potential of Pakistan’s mining sector is yet to be realised. "Large-scale mining activities require massive initial investments, which are beyond the capacity of Pakistan’s private and public sectors," says a report of Pakistan Minerals Working Group of Canada-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce, which appeared in 2013.

"In order to attract foreign investment, the federal and provincials governments have to create an environment in which foreign investors are reassured of the security of their investments and an orderly conduct of their business without fear of arbitrary interventions by authorities," it further states.

To understand the situation, the discovery of iron ore and other important metals from Chiniot is a good case study. The GSP had indicated the presence of huge amount of iron ore in the area in a report in 1990.

"GSP submitted its detailed report about the presence of huge amount of iron ore at the site to the government in 1990. We had prepared the report at the cost of Rs20 million and the government has spent Rs 1600 million for third party evaluation, which is almost similar to our report," says a senior official of GSP who does not want to be identified.

"The total budget of GSP is Rs378 million. After paying employees related expenses we are left with only Rs10 million for research and survey activities," he laments.

"GSP has only four functional rigs. The latest rig in our fleet is 45 years old and even its spare parts are not available in the market," he points out, adding, "GSP has complete mapping of the country."

He says, "We have produced more than 2000 reports of different areas and know the potential of minerals in Pakistan. We have great potential even in rare-earth elements. These are strategic minerals and used in nuclear arsenals. We have recently discovered a huge quantity of these elements in district Buner. Our government needs to support its own institutions."

He terms Thar coal as future of Pakistan’s energy needs. "It is lignite coal which is being used to produce electricity throughout the world. Recently, new deposits of high quality coal, estimated to be over one billion tones, have been discovered in Badin district of Sindh. These new deposits of coal have high heating value," he informs.

With this discovery, Pakistan’s deposits of coal have increased by about 50 per cent and these now exceed three billion tones," he claims, adding that GSP has conducted integrated geophysical survey of 80,000 square kilometre area of Punjab in districts Chiniot, Faisalabad, and Sargodha on the request of the Punjab government. "We have found 32 more zones in these districts with iron, copper, and gold. The report has already been submitted to the Punjab government."

Under the Constitution of Pakistan, minerals are provincial subjects with the exception of nuclear minerals and those found in Fata, Islamabad, and International Offshore Water Territory. Provincial governments are responsible for regulation, exploration, mineral development whereas geological/geophysical survey and mapping, national and international coordination and formulation of national polices and plans are federal responsibilities.

The statistical data on mining and production of solid minerals is generated by the provincial Directorate Generals of Mines and Mineral Development (DGMMD). They lack resources and staff.

The mapping, according to experts, is only a roadmap. "The map can show the presence of natural resources in some area but then we have to identify whether it is mineable or not," says a senior official of the Directorate Generals of Mines and Mineral Development Punjab.

"There are three categories of resources: measured, indicated, and inferred," he says, adding, "In Chiniot we have done the drilling but still we will have to see the economic and environmental feasibility of these deposits. They are found 100-200 metres down. We will have to relocate a huge portion of the population. So, it may not be economically feasible at the end of the day."

The issue with Thar coal, according to the official, is not of quality but of economic and environmental feasibility. He says that the potential in mining and minerals sector in Pakistan is enormous but there is lack of planning and direction. "We need to tell our people what percentage of reservoirs in Pakistan is measured, what percentage is indicated and what percentage is inferred. This will give a clear picture and true potential of natural resources in Pakistan."

Potential promise