National, Front Page

Bangabandhu initiated energy security

Sustainable energy security not yet ensured

Published : 08 Aug 2022 10:08 PM

In the past few years, despite various levels of infrastructure development in the power and energy sector in the country, sustainable energy security has not been ensured yet. 

All the governments except for the Bangabandhu government failed to pay due attention, the overall result of which is today's energy crisis, energy experts said. 

The Bangabandhu government dug nine wells during its three and a half years. Of these, seven were offshore, and two onshore. On August 9, 1975, Bangabandhu bought five gas fields (Titas, Bakhrabad, Habiganj, Rashidpur and Kailashtila) from foreign company 'Shell Oil' at a nominal price of £4.5 million. Based on this, the energy sector of Bangladesh is now standing.

According to experts, due to non-increase in gas production, this sector has become import-dependent, and now due to increase in gas prices in the global market, an acute crisis has been created. Imported primary fuel - will put the country in crisis. 

The National Energy Security Day is being observed today (Tuesday) commemorating the historic decision taken by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 9 in 1975. The government has been observing the day since 2010.

Petrobangla sources said that 10.12 trillion cubic feet of gas has been extracted from those five gas fields till June 2022. These fields are estimated to have another 5.46 Tcf of gas reserves. Its market value is taka 1 lakh 49 thousand 890 crore. During the next 36 years of Bangabandhu's government, only 12 exploratory wells were dug. Only two wells were drilled by the BNP and caretaker government from 2001 to 2008. 

Energy expert Professor Ijaz Hossain said, “We have done only power plants. However, the power plant is not electricity anymore, it is a power generation machine, it needs to be fueled. But we have no plan on where that fuel will come from. This is why we are in such danger today.”

“Why has gas exploration been put off for two centuries? Stopping gas exploration is not clear to us,” he added. 

A century ago, the power and energy shortage in the country was at a terrible level. Electricity load-shedding and gas scarcity affected everything from homes to industries. After coming to power in 2009, the Awami League government took several decisions to improve the power and energy sector. Despite some criticism, the power generation was successful. But stakeholders feel that the overall energy sector has not seen significant progress.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) energy advisor Professor M Shamsul Alam said that the influence of looters in the energy sector is very high. Here, due to the influence of individuals, some projects are canceled, some are stalled. 

He thinks that if the government does not take a firm and right decision, there will be no speed in the exploration of oil and gas in the country.

Bangladesh's energy sector is mainly gas dependent. Other common fuels include - fuel oil, LPG, coal etc. Fuel oil is totally import dependent. Two years ago, domestic coal was the only source of electricity generation.  However, now the government is importing coal for power generation. Some 98 percent of LPG raw material is imported.

According to a recent report by the Energy Division, production from the country's fields could drop by 18.4 crore cubic feet of gas per day in 2022-23 if no major gas fields are discovered. Daily production may fall by 43.5 crore cubic feet in 2023-24.

Energy expert M Tamim says, "After the present government came to power, the capacity of the power plant has been increased due to their energy policy. But the primary fuel issue has not been solved. ''

“We have completely failed to ensure sustainable primary fuel supply. As a result, we have faced an unprecedented situation due to the increase in the price of gas and oil in the global market,'' he said.

To meet the country's LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) demand, an initiative was taken to construct a terminal with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes at Matarbari in Maheshkhali. This project has not yet passed the initial stage. Several officials of the Energy Division said that private businessmen are creating obstacles in the way of implementing this project.

Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL), under Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) as a subsidiary, undertook a project to increase the country’s petroleum refining capacity through building a second unit, ERL-2. However, the project has not been launched even in 12 years. 

Officials said, the country's only state-owned petroleum oil refinery, ERL, started its commercial production in 1968 with an annual refining capacity of 1.5 million metric tons per year. However, its capacity has not increased till now. In contrast, current demand for petroleum products stands at nearly 6.5 million metric tons per year. 

In order to ensure energy security, the government decided to build the second unit “Eastern Refinery Unit-2” having 3.0 million tonnes of Crude Oil processing capacity in Chattogram.

According to the Petrobangla, the daily production in gas fields in the country has come down to 2300 cubic feet.

In addition, despite receiving 500 cubic feet of gas from Qatar and Oman under long-term contracts, there remains a shortfall of around 1000 cubic feet of gas per day against demand.

Nazmul Ahsan, Chairman of Petrobangla said that they had an earlier gas exploration initiative and now they are strengthening it.

"We have drawn up a plan. We will drill 46 wells in four years, which can be drilled in a short period of time."

Ahsan mentioned, if these wells can be drilled, they expect to find more than 600 million cubic feet of gas.

The exploration of gas and oil from the maritime area that Bangladesh won from Myanmar and India through the verdicts of the UN Maritime Tribunal has also made no progress. 

Bangladesh won 111,000 square kilometres from Myanmar and 19,467 square kilometres from India through the verdicts in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

The two neighbours have already begun exploration and extraction of natural gas and oil in their territorial waters.

Petrobangla Chairman said that the partnership agreement proposal is also being revised now to attract foreign companies in the sea. 

"The production partnership agreement for offshore gas extraction is being reviewed to attract foreign oil companies," he said.

Ahsan said, they think that the bidding process can be started within this year by completing this review quickly.

The Chairman claimed that within this year they will be able to vigorously advance the work of gas exploration and production.

But the reality is that foreign companies could not be attracted to Bangladesh for almost two decades - say experts.

Experts say the country should give priority to domestic oil and gas exploration to lessen the dependence on import, but the issue has long been neglected. 

The 1995 Energy Policy laid emphasis on the drilling of four exploration wells a year. 

Energy expert, Professore Badrul Imam said the country's energy sector is being more dependent on imports. This situation has been created due to lack of proper planning, bureaucratic complexity and protection of the interests of some beneficiaries. If this continues, more than 90 percent of Bangladesh's energy sector will be import dependent in future. The added pressure on the national economy is undoubtedly a matter of concern. 

Badrul also said gas production in the country has been declining since 2000. But in the last 20 years, there has been no success in the exploration activities.  So, energy exploration activities inside the country should be increased to overcome the crisis. Otherwise, the crisis in the energy sector will intensify.