The news that Petrobangla's subsidiary, the Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Ltd (BAPEX) has come up with an `advanced and standard exploration procedure' is encouraging. The information, broached to The Financial Express by the Energy Secretary, holds details of carrying out seismic surveys and well-drilling under a new methodology for striking fossil fuel. Any company that wants a share of the work must follow the procedure that will be further developed. A `planned way' is being thought of and being given final shape for the very important work of energy exploration. As the country moves ahead at a good speed, this new work given to BAPEX brings in high hopes for the future. It is good that the BAPEX plan has been tuned to the country's progression in the coming two decades. Upgrading existing rigs and acquiring new ones to explore and develop wells can only add to the energy strength now in place.
Nearly 15 trillion cubic feet of gas reserve gives the country the base of hope and confidence, although due to rapid economic growth in recent years, Bangladesh is now a net importer of gas. LNG has started coming and been added to the gas distribution network. Permanent platforms are being readied for the imported product. All these point to brisk economic activity. Participation and experience of foreign companies have been mixed in the past. Although Chevron's gas fields now produce 50 per cent of the country's total gas, in the late 1970s many contacted companies had left because they had sensed more gas than oil, which was their main target. Now because of a change in the world energy scenario, gas has come to be given greater value. Besides, Bangladesh's gas is one of the best in the world with 90-98 per cent methane content having almost no sulphur. The maritime belt's economic zone promises to be holding a good fortune if properly explored. Settlement of maritime rights issues with India and Myanmar augurs well for the exploration of oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal. The present stance that the Energy Ministry has taken in regards to future exploration by foreign and local entities under set rules and procedure raises question as to why this was not done before. Everybody knew that there was huge potential of gas and oil in the country. The present generation of Petrobangla and BAPEX leadership deserves praise for the latest move. Already three dozen exploratory wells are on the plans. However, the issue of horizontal drilling and chemical and mechanical fracturing must be subject to environmental safeguards. There has been criticism in the western world regarding these unconventional methods. Fracturing leads to water degradation, chemicals spoil habitat, it is alleged.
Against this background, although the Energy Ministry's latest effort through BAPEX deserves appreciation, all aspects of an aggressive quest for fossil fuel must be examined and enumerated. Nature must be protected at any cost. It is good that the endeavour includes developing skilled manpower. This is one field where the country lags behind. As the experience of neighbouring China and India has shown, developing one's own manpower and institutions pays huge dividends in the hydrocarbon sector. Both the countries are now exploring abroad. Bangladesh should be prepared fully at home first. Be that as it may, the BAPEX endeavours open a new horizon and gives the nation sigh of relief over a prospect for energy self-sufficiency.
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