<p>The West Bengal government, in partnership with Essar Oil and Indian Oil, may soon run India’s first buses on coal-bed methane, a natural gas extracted from coal beds and, like other gases, considered a better alternative to petrol or diesel.
“We were approached by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board to discuss a proposal to source coal-bed methane gas from the Raniganj block to run State Transport Corporation buses in Kolkata,” said a spokesperson from Essar Oil. “We are in talks with Indian Oil to put in place a franchise agreement that will enable access to their pump facility at the bus depots to convert coal-bed methane (CBM) into compressed natural gas (CNG), which can be used to run buses.”
Burning gas produces far fewer emissions than coal or oil and is increasingly embraced by policymakers as a "cleaner" fuel for transportation and other uses, according to a Reuters market analyst. It is seen as a "bridging" technology until solar, wind and other advanced technologies come into use.
Delhi and Mumbai already use CNG to run buses used for public transport.
While there is a shortfall in supply of CNG in West Bengal, it has a rich deposit of CBM in the coalfields of the Durgapur-Asansol-Raniganj belt in Bardhaman district. The proposed fuel for Kolkata buses may be costlier than CNG, though the price can come down at a later stage with large-scale production. Essar Oil’s technical feasibility study envisages transportation of the requisite quantity of gas to Kolkata through truck-mounted cascades.
According to government estimates, India has an estimated CBM resource base of 1.5 to 2 trillion cubic meters and has about 26 blocks covering 13,600 sq km. Apart from Essar, other companies in the sector are GEECL, Oil and Natural Gas Corp and Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd.
An official in the state transport department confirmed the proposal. “About 5,000 buses run by the different transport corporations in the city will be brought under the project. If we can successfully use CBM as an alternative fuel option, pollution would certainly come down in the city and its suburbs,” the official said. The conversion of CBM into CNG is a difficult process, though. “Initially, it will be launched as a pilot project supplying the gas to less than 50 buses,” the official added.