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India must go deep

As coal-reliant India’s power demands grow and options for cheap open-pit operations dwindle, some energy industry experts say shifting the focus to expensive underground mines may be the only viable way to prevent a major power crisis.

India, which holds massive estimated coal reserves of 286 billion tonnes, meets close to 75 percent of its demand domestically. Much of that is not accessible through open-pit operations, which some experts believe will be exhausted within a decade.

State-run Coal India Limited produces 80 percent of the country’s coal at an average cost of around 13 US dollars per tonne in open pits — less than one-fifth as much as underground mines. The company says the higher costs and lower output of existing underground mines make them financially unfeasible at today’s prices, but importing is also costly. Only 10 percent of Coal India’s output currently comes from underground mining.


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