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 ...

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