LNG supply glitch yet to be repaired

Published: November 14, 2018 21:41:35 | Updated: November 16, 2018 22:12:33

The domestic sector in some areas of the country having piped gas connections had its supply restored tolerably. Many areas are still reeling from a crippling disruption to the supply of LNG. It began on November 03 when re-gasification in the country's first LNG (liquefied natural gas) import terminal at Maheshkhali had to be suspended. The action was taken after a fault had been detected in the underwater hydraulic valve connected to the floating terminal. Technically it is known as FSRU (floating, storage, re-gasification unit). Despite the arrival of a team of foreign engineers, the glitch is yet to be fixed. However, thanks to the production suspension of a large fertiliser factory, the state of domestic gas consumption in Dhaka and Chattogram has been becoming near-normal since November 08.

A similar problem occurred and later solved just prior to the opening of the terminal in mid-August. Apart from causing disruptions to industrial productions, the miserably low-pressure gas supply this time brought household cooking activities to a standstill. With gas burners remaining inoperative in many areas, people were made to turn to alternative cooking devices. The worst hit areas included Dhaka and Chattogram --- the port city, which received the first supplies of the LNG imported from Qatar.

As part of a domino effect, the sudden disruption to gas supply hit the power sector hard. It rendered three gas-run power plants and the giant urea fertiliser factory in the port city inoperative. They were declared shut to cope with the short supply of gas. Given the public sufferings and the accompanying economic impact, the glitch threatens to deteriorate into a lingering crisis. After futile attempts by the engineers of Petrobangla LNG Cell, a team of experts with the terminal co-operator, Excelerate, has arrived in Bangladesh to fix the problem. The team is still said to be trying to solve it. As a remedial measure, state-owned Petrobangla has cancelled pre-scheduled shipments of LNG from Qatar. In short, the technical fault in the underwater valve of the FSRU and the suspension of re-gasification threatens to emerge as a blow to the country's energy sector. Recurrence of disruptions like it is feared to jeopardise the country's strategies of remaining unaffected by gas and power disruptions, and sufferings as well as the impact they have on industrial performance.

The inordinate delay in starting re-gasification of the lean LNG imported from Qatar due to a glitch in the floating terminal's underwater pipe and commencing distribution of the re-gasified LNG was supposed to serve as a warning. But the issue did not seem to have received due priority. It should have been taken as a portent for possible disruptions in the future. The country's gas and mineral authorities' focus on the imperative proved below par. Or else, joint efforts between Petrobangla and the collaborating company Excelerate could have put in place the necessary preventive and failsafe gears to pre-empt further damages to the sub-sea supply line. The reported disagreement over the cause of the damages detected in the underwater hydraulic valve appears as something disconcerting.

The earlier the state-owned Petrobangla and the US-based company Excelerate Energy resolve the dispute the better it is for Bangladesh. For, the country can ill afford to remain entangled in a protracted row when its dependence on LNG is necessitated by some pressing realities prevailing in the gas sector. The latest LNG-supply disruption may prove a close call for Bangladesh, the once-abundant natural gas reserves of which are depleting fast. 

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