Severe gas crisis amid weakening distribution system

Shahiduzzaman Khan   | Published: May 26, 2018 22:09:51


Severe gas crisis is now persisting in the capital Dhaka and the port city Chattagram. Such crisis usually occurs in winter due to increased demand and condensation in the pipeline, but now summer is also witnessing such crisis.

In fact, growing demand for the natural resource, low production and diversion of huge quantity of gas to power plants and fertiliser factories are some of the reasons of such severe shortage.

In spite of the fact that the government has moved to add 500 million cubic feet of gas per day (mmcfd) to the national gas network with imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), the severe gas crisis that the city dwellers have been experiencing in many areas of Dhaka city is unlikely to be resolved soon due to weak distribution network of the Titas Gas.  

Analysts believe addition of more gas will not work to ease the situation until a viable project is taken to improve distribution line. No major project was, in fact, undertaken in recent years to improve the capacity of the Titas distribution lines. This was due to the government's policy to apparently discourage the residential use of pipeline gas.

In most areas, distribution lines have become unable to meet the demand of gas which is growing because of rampant construction of high-rise buildings in and around Dhaka city increasing the number of gas consumers. 

   Titas Gas, however, maintains that they have been constantly making efforts to improve the situation. It is currently implementing a pre-paid gas meter installation project to stem the flow of huge of illegal gas connections. There are more than 300,000 million illegal gas connections in many areas of the city and its suburbs. Once the project is fully implemented, Titas Gas believes the situation will improve.

Yet the reality is that there will be no end to the ongoing gas crisis unless there is any policy change on the government side.   Currently, Titas gas has almost 500 mmcfd gas shortage to meet its demand as it is receiving about 1580  mmcfd gas from  Petrobangla.

Residents in different areas of the city say they are unable to cook at home due to gas crisis and are being forced to spend extra money on buying food items from outside. Many are also using cylinder gas or electric heater. Ironically, even though there is no gas in the burner and people are counting extra cost in buying food, cylinder gas or electric heater, the monthly gas bill based on the number of burners remains unchanged.

Gas consumers of the Chattagram port city have also been facing acute gas crisis for the last few weeks. Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Limited (KGDCL) is distributing gas in the port city. Household chores and industrial production in most of the areas of the city are being affected badly by the crisis which has turned into a common phenomenon in the port city. 

Even production at the backward-linkage garment industries has decreased by at least 40 per cent due to severe gas crisis, posing a threat to timely shipment of finished readymade garment products for export. Garment backward-linkage factories - knitting, washing and dyeing units - at Savar and Ashulia of Dhaka and Gazipur have been facing an acute gas crisis for last few months.

There are 150-200 vertical backward linkage factories in the areas. The production capacity of many factories in the area has decreased by a half. It is mainly due to the leakage in the gas pipeline under the River Pungli in Tangail. The incident had occurred on October 05, according to reports.

However, the state minister assured the backward linkage factory owners that the pressure of gas would be normal after repair of the leakage in the pipeline which would take more than a month.

Analysts say the government should provide gas to the RMG sector by suspending supply to the fertiliser factories considering the importance of the export-oriented sector. If this is not done, many entrepreneurs will be forced to lay off their factories, they feared.

The production in knitting, washing and dyeing units decreased significantly and the companies faced huge losses in last one and a half months. A good number of factories in Gazipur and Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, have been facing huge financial losses as dyeing and washing activities remained stopped in the units for the last one month.

Some of the factory owners had started to convert their boilers into diesel-powered from gas-powered ones to continue production at their units but the cost of production using diesel was seven times higher than that of gas-based production.

If the situation persists, shipment of finished RMG products will be delayed and exporters will have to bear the brunt of air shipment, discount and cancellation of orders.

For the present, there appears to be no option left other than increasing the import of costly LNG because the local reservoir of natural gas is depleting fast day by day. Introduction of gas meter at household level is also long overdue. At present consumers are paying gas tariff at a blanket rate. Installation of such meter is expected to ensure fair tariff to the consumers and also reduce misuse of gas.

There is no denying that any precious resource, particularly if it is non-renewable, needs to be used in a most prudent and planned way. Yet due to institutional inefficiency and corruption on the part of implementing agencies, public properties in Bangladesh are being blatantly wasted and plundered even after so many years of the country's liberation.

Rampant illegal gas connections and widespread pilfering of gas with the help of a section of corrupt officials are hindering government efforts to streamline the gas distribution system. This must be stopped at any cost.

szkhanfe@gmail.com

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