Gas Crisis to Worsen Further From 2011: Fast decision a must to produce coal, N-power

The country is walking the path of a perennial gas crisis where even the best possible situation of striking gas in the off-shore blocks will not give it a respite till 2020.

This means unless the government takes major policy decisions like emphasising coal or nuclear power production within a short time, the already unbearable power load shedding that is hitting the economy and lifestyle very hard will go beyond any solution. Most of the country’s power plants run on gas.

The gas situation is so bleak that Petrobangla has been declining confirmation of gas supply to a number of upcoming large power projects. In a paper submitted to the prime minister, Petrobangla even recommended discouraging use of gas for power generation as it can be generated using alternative resources like coal.

Power Development Board (PDB) sources say while Petrobangla okayed gas supply to Bibiyana 450 megawatt power project, it cannot confirm gas supply to the much older 450 MW Sirajganj power project till 2012.

For now it can only confirm gas supply to 150 MW Sylhet, 150 MW Bhola and two 150 MW Siddhirganj power projects.

Petrobangla flatly refused to supply gas to Phase- 3 Meghnaghat 450 MW project, 150 MW Sikalbaha, 240 MW Dhaka North and 150 MW Khulna power projects.

And it can conditionally supply gas to the dual-fuel 450 MW Bheramara project, 360 MW Haripur, dual-fuel 210 MW Khulna, 150 MW Chandpur and 150 MW Sirajganj projets. The condition is that gas may be available tor these schemes after 2012.

Lack of gas supply to the power plants is already forcing the PDB to refrain from generation of around 600-700 MW power. This is adding to power load shedding because of inadequate power plants in the country.

Planning of power project has been revolving round availability of gas since the sixties. Till now the focus remains confined to gas-based power projects which generate around 90 percent of the country’s power.

As per Petrobangla’s projection number-1, with the current activities involving gas exploration and production, gas shortfall will hit 142 million cubic feet a day (mmcfd) in 2011, 341 mmcfd in 2014, 838 mmcfd in 2016 and 1,714 mmcfd in 2019-20.

The demand for gas is 2,018 mmcfd at present and it will rise to 4,567 mmcfd in 2019-20 at the present trend of consumption growth, Petrobangla sources said.

But the country is already experiencing more than 200 mmcfd gas supply shortfall, and the Petrobangla projection did not include this. It means the actual situation would be even worse.

Gas production in 2008-09 has been shown to be 2,042 mmcfd against the demand for 2,014 mmcfd. But in reality, the country is producing around 1,800 mmcfd gas from 17 gas fields–half of it by the international oil companies. Of this gas, power sector–including industrial captive power generators– is consuming 900 mmcfd, fertiliser factories 290 mmcfd and 580 to 600 mmcfd are being consumed by industrial, commercial and domestic and CNG users, and tea estates. In addition, the gas fields are producing 6,700 barrels of condensate.

In scenario-2, where international oil companies would discover new gas fields under production sharing contracts (PSCs) signed through the 1998 second round block bidding, the situation would be slightly better in 2011 as it offers 58 mmcfd gas supply surplus. But by 2014-15, this surplus turns into a deficit of 112 mmcfd gas. The deficit rises to 666 mmcfd in 2017 and 1,314 mmcfd in 2019-20.

In scenario-3, where oil companies having off-shore block bidding contracts may strike gas, the situation is even better. But even then, the supply crunch starts in 2017 with 166 mmcfd deficit, rapidly rising to 814 mmcfd in 2019-20.

In a brief to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Petrobangla pinpointed various issues of the country’s oil and gas sector, and said as per the Gas Sector Master Plan 2006, gas demand may be met till 2019 using the existing gas reserves and probable and possible reserves.

“But if we fail to find the probable and possible gas reserves, the crisis would emerge much before that time limit. In such a situation, it has become very urgent to expedite onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration,” said the brief.

Petrobangla emphasised fixing the maritime boundary.

Priority should be given to supplying gas to fertiliser factories, cottage industries and foreign currency-earning industries than supplying to consumers who can use alternative energy resources, it said.

As this sector is capital dependent, Petrobangla urged the prime minister fix gas prices commercially.

Coal exploration and development activities should be geared up for growth of power sector, it stressed.

While fund crisis and institutional shortcomings coupled with inaction of the past four-party alliance government had almost halted development of the energy sector, different groups had been resisting new energy exploration and development activities by foreign companies.

Following the Magurchhara blowout of 1997, Jamaat-e-Islami-leaning retired secretary Shah Abdul Hannan turned to the court in late nineties and during the four-party rule, the High Court imposed a stay order on bidding in on-shore blocks. Till now the government did not contest the court order while the stay order contributed to the existing problem, Petrobangla sources said.

Towards the fag end of the alliance rule, when Petrobangla tried to float an on-shore and off-shore block bidding by challenging the court order, the then legal adviser to Petrobangla, belonging to pro-Jamaat camp of lawyers, suggested limiting the bid to off-shore blocks. Accordingly, Petrobangla prepared for the off-shore bid that was floated in early 2008.

Again, following the Tengratila blowout in 2005, environment group Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (Bela) filed a lawsuit against the gas field’s operator Canadian company Niko, which led to suspension of payment to Niko and its Bangladeshi partner Bapex. The case is now in its final stage of disposal.

On the other hand, the national committee for protecting oil, gas and coal resources launched a campaign against the proposed open-pit mining in Phulbari by British company Asia Energy, which led to death of several protesters in police firing in 2006. The campaign gained ground as the-then government left the matter of resettlement and compensation to Asia Energy which is perceived as an “inexperienced” and “insensitive” company.

Following the “success” in Phulbari, the committee has continued campaigning against any open-pit coal mining.

The campaign has also gained popularity among people around Barapukuria underground mine, who recently attempted to get the lone coal mine’s new production suspended.

Due to the “nationalistic” peer pressure caused by such campaigns, the government has been unable to take any decision in the last two years concerning vital issues including the country’s first coal policy.

Meanwhile, the lone Barapukuria coal mine is producing nearly 9,00,000 tonnes of coal a year, and a few other coal zones now await government decision. The country is officially and unofficially importing more than 3 million tonnes of low quality and environmentally hazardous coal from India worth around Tk 2,500 crore a year.

Source: The Daily Star, 04 April 2009


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