Botswana ready to light fires
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