Gas prospects made gloomy
The country will continue to suffer from gas crisis for the next few years as Petrobangla has failed to increase gas production and its capability to supply gas in line with the rising demand.
The shortfall in gas supply now stands at around 500 million cubic feet a day (mmcfd), sufficient to generate power to meet one third of the country's electricity demand.
Domestic users need 130-140 mmcfd gas in the capital but its supply now hovers around 110 mmcfd, said officials of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd.
Titas has been trying to improve gas supply by replacing old and narrow gas lines.
It has replaced around 56 kilometres of pipelines in the city. But there will not be any big improvement in supply unless gas production increases, said an official asking not to be named.
“But we don't see any realistic projection of increased gas supply,” the official said.
Petrobangla's failure to boost gas supply had restricted the government from giving new gas connections from July last year to stop the persisting gas crisis from worsening further.
A Titas field report says a section of officials and contractors gave illegal gas connections to thousands of new buildings taking bribes from their owners in the last six months. Many of the house owners were among the 50,000 people, who applied for gas connection. The illegal connections have put additional pressure on gas supply.
Titas will launch a drive to snap illegal gas connections in the capital as part of its initiatives to improve the supply. But this will not change the situation much.
In June last year, US oil company Chevron offered a way out. The company said it can increase gas production within 2013 by a staggering 940 mmcfd, almost half the country's present consumption.
But to make it a reality, the government has to set up at least one cross-country pipeline to transmit gas from Sylhet to the central region. Construction of such a pipeline will require $100-150 million. The energy ministry had given it a primary nod suggesting that Titas could work on it. But there is no further progress.
There was another option to have a respite from the crisis late this year but it was ruled out by the then Petrobangla chairman in May 2009. The chairman cancelled an open tender at the final stage for setting up three gas compressors in Muchai, Ashuganj and Elenga to boost gas supply using the existing pipelines. He mentioned fund constraint as the main reason behind the cancellation of the bid.
Had the tender process been completed, the three compressor stations would have been installed by July-August this year and could produce gas up to 300 mmcfd.
All the while, he led the government to sign a deal with Chevron to install a gas compressor at Muchai, where the compression system is least needed. This compressor will start operation early next year and will increase gas supply by only 50 mmcfd.
For the other two compressors, Titas had floated a “priority” tender after more than a year's delay. The tender process began in August-September, but it is yet to make any progress due to unwarranted pressure from outside to select a disqualified bidder, sources said.
Petrobangla's latest initiative to increase production in its existing gas fields by drilling several development wells on a “fast track basis” has not seen desired progress. In October last year, Petrobangla Chairman Hossain Mansur told The Daily Star that a Polish company would be given the job soon. But Petrobangla is yet to award the job.
Petrobangla has not yet taken any initiative to fix gas leakage in Titas Gas Field.
This old gas field, known as the lifeline of the country's energy sector, has developed major cracks through which gas has been seeping for the last five years.
Experts say natural gas worth crores of taka is leaking out from the gas field every year. But Petrobangla remains indifferent to it.
The government had initiated a tender to set up a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Bay of Bengal to import LNG from Qatar in ships and transmit it through gas pipelines in the country. The tender is now in progress keeping in view that the terminal will be completed next year.
Bangladesh seeks to import 500 mmcfd of expensive LNG to mix it with the country's cheaper gas. The government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar but has not made any price negotiation or agreement framework. Industry insiders say an MoU is not a guarantee of getting the LNG as per the schedule or at a desired rate.
The LNG import faces yet another challenge -- construction of a 100 kilometre pipeline to transmit the processed LNG to the national grid.
Other than these, there is one more hope. Bapex's new exploration might see discoveries of gas fields.