Botswana ready to light fires

Financial Mail - - MONEY&INVESTING -

It’s been known since the 1960s that Botswana has vast amounts of coal re­serves, says ex­plorer and ge­ol­o­gist John Astrup.

Un­der the wel­come shade of a tree in the sum­mer heat, he casts an eye out over the flat, sandy Kala­hari land­scape near the Min­ergy open­cast coal mine, just 50km north of the cap­i­tal, Gaborone.

Bet­ter known for its di­a­mond in­dus­try, the back­bone of its econ­omy, Botswana is es­ti­mated to have 212-bil­lion tons of coal. (SA, by com­par­i­son, has an es­ti­mated 66.7-bil­lion tons in re­cov­er­able coal, about 7% of the world’s to­tal.)

“So [Botswana has] mas­sive amounts of coal, but only one coal mine,” says Astrup. That’s Morupule, which feeds Botswana’s only power plant, which caters for the en­tire coun­try’s en­ergy needs.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the big oil com­pa­nies — Shell, To­tal, BP and oth­ers — were drilling all over the coun­try.

“In fact, our project here was drilled by Shell in the 1980s,” he says. Shell had wanted to ex­port coal to Europe, but pri­or­i­ties changed when the oil price be­gan to boom.

Dig­ging through the ar­chives, Astrup hap­pened upon de­tailed drilling re­ports for the site. “So we knew we were on some good coal here,” says Astrup.

“That old in­for­ma­tion helped us a lot in terms of where we looked.”

Min­ergy, a mi­cro-ex­plo­ration com­pany run by Astrup and his part­ner Claude de Bruin, was the early start for the com­pany. Now the Botswana-listed group is mere me­tres away from hit­ting coal in its Masama open­cast project, out­side the vil­lage of Medie. It’s on track to pro­duce coal by Feb­ru­ary.

The re­source is es­ti­mated to have

100 years of life and the aim is to pro­duce

2.4Mt of coal a year.

“Many peo­ple proved there was a lot of coal in Botswana but they never re­ally started a coal mine,” Astrup says.

“The coal be­ing there is only half the story. You need a mar­ket.”

And for Min­ergy, that mar­ket is just across the bor­der — in SA.

Coal pro­duc­ers will tell you that it’s ul­ti­mately a lo­gis­tics game. De­spite be­ing in an­other

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