6 days ago

Pragmatic use of natural gas from Bhola

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Against persistent energy crisis in the country, the discovery of the latest gas field, 29th of its kind and named 'Ilisha', in Bhola brings hope but not any relief yet. With a recoverable reserve of around 200 billion cubic feet (Bcf), this is the third gas field in the island district. To go by the indication given by State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid, there is a real chance of striking offshore gas reserve/reserves in that area as well. Together the three gas fields already have an estimated recoverable deposit of 2.23 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas which is quite substantial. If off-shore gas fields nearby in the Bay can be struck, Bangladesh's prospect for local source of energy production looks bright indeed.

Unfortunately, much as the new-found gas reserve may raise hope for brighter energy prospect for the future, it cannot bring immediate relief for the energy-starved country. Even the two gas fields discovered there earlier either remain unutilised or underutilised. From 2009 Shahbazpur gas field went into production but due to limited demand it currently produces 80-85 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) and Bhola North has been left unutilised so far. To say that there is no demand for gas is a misstatement. The problem here is that Bhola is a long way off and isolated from the main land and building of a pipeline for supplying gas to industries and households even in its nearest district, Barishal, let alone the rest of the country where the need for gas is high, is quite challenging. A temporary solution is the conversion of gas extracted from Bhola gas fields to compressed natural gas (CNG) for industrial and other uses. To that end the government has awarded a contract to Intraco Refuelling Station which will do the job but even then, as reported, it may take about three years to complete the process.

This is exactly where the indecision and delay in exploiting domestically available energy resources hurt. Shahbazpur gas field was discovered as early 1995 and Bhola North in 2018. When import of oil and gas proved otherwise expedient to policymakers, they felt no urgency to build domestic capacity for meeting emergencies like the one Bangladesh and other energy-scarce countries are confronting following the post-Covid-19 energy price's sudden hike and also in the aftermath of Ukraine war. The country is now paying through its nose for such wrong policies. Even it is yet to make a serious effort to invite foreign gas exploration companies for carrying out search for gas and oil in Chittagon Hill Tracts and of course in the Bay's offshore region.

Primarily the gas can be extracted for all purposes, including industrialisation, in the southern districts. So, the first task is to build a pipeline from Bhola to Barishal and then gradually expand the network for spurring industrial and commercial productivity. So far as household use of gas is concerned, Bhola should get the priority. As the global transition is in favour of clean energy, Bangladesh will also have to follow in the footsteps of the advanced countries. At least the proven gas reserves should be made good use of in the meantime.

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