By Ajoy K Das and Mariaan Webb
April 19, 2017 - Contrary to the general trend across the country, southern India headquartered Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) will not phase out underground mining operations, but in fact plans to open at least two more such mines over the next few years.
Company officials said that SCCL was working on two projects – Kondapuram and Manuguru – where underground mining projects would be developed over the next two to three years.
Most of the underground mining projects would adopt the ‘zero conventional bord and pillar manual filling’, as well as full deployment of continuous miners, which would be adapted to function even in places lacking continuous stretches of deposits, the officials said.
However, they conceded that SCCL was looking to convert some underground mines to opencast, but this was solely based on geological conditions and depth of mining at existing projects and not on account of any shift out of underground mining by the company.
Continued focus on underground mining was critical for SCCL, which currently has 30 such operational mines along with 17 opencast mines, predominantly in the southern Indian province of Telangana.
SCCL’s strategy is in contrast to its larger counterpart, Coal India Limited (CIL), which sourced less than 6% of its production from underground mines last year. In 2012, underground mines accounted for 9% of total production.
According CIL officials, there has been natural depletion of reserves at existing operational underground mines and the absence of contiguous new deposits is a major hurdle to developing new underground mines, as fragmented blocks made installation of longwall mining technology unviable in such deposits.
As a result, with no new underground mines likely to be implemented, the current trend of rising contribution to total production from opencast mines would gain further momentum. As things stood now, contribution of opencast mines to total CIL production had moved up from 86% to 93% even though opencast mines made up only 42% of the total 413 operational mines under CIL.
Alongside opening at least two underground mines, SCCL has also undertaken expansion of its Sattupalli opencast mines, where officials say an additional 400-million tons of reserves have been established and the miner expects incremental production of at least 10-million tons a year once the expansion project was completed.