Bangladesh's search for energy is becoming desperate. With the sudden realisation that the country's natural gas reserve -- contrary to the myth of unlimited stock -- was fast depleting, many of the gas-based industries and ventures received a jolt. Even urea fertiliser factories in Ghorasal were forced to stop production for a long period. In order to avoid disruption in production and domestic use, a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal had to be set up in Chattogram. Hopes of striking oil and gas from offshore exploration in the Bay of Bengal in the near future have been dashed. Foreign companies charged with the exploration hydrocarbon subsequently lost interests, complaining that the prospect of extraction was not worth their investment. During the time they were carrying out their exploration, fuel oil price was at its lowest in the international market. This explains the exploring companies' disinterestedness.
Evidently, Bangladesh had no option other than arranging for a floating LNG import terminal. Factories, industries and housing units were constructed on the assumption that there would be uninterrupted gas supply to run their units and ovens. A front-page report carried in this newspaper on Sunday has captured the urgency of finding a less costly source of energy than the LNG. Gas or oil extracted from the country's territorial waters in the Bay could be the best option. But foreign companies undertaking offshore exploration both in shallow and deep waters under agreements could not provide the answer to the country's energy crisis the policymakers were looking for. So a fresh attempt is underway to attract more such companies. This time both onshore and offshore explorations will be opened to them. This offer may appear to be lucrative. First, oil price has marked an increase in the international market. Second, onshore exploration may prove attractive to them.
The fact that 26 offshore blocks and more than a dozen onshore blocks remain unexplored as yet is a strong reason for being optimistic that some foreign companies will be interested in the venture. The Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company Limited (BAPEX) has successfully explored gas in Bhola and made its commercial use possible. This is encouraging. There is every possibility of finding a considerably large reserve of gas or oil in any of the onshore blocks.
Bangladesh's compulsion for finding a domestic source is understandable. Right at this moment, the focus is mainly on fossil fuel. Gas is a cleaner fuel than oil but still both are forms of hydrocarbons or fossil fuel. Isn't it time that the country also started thinking of alternative energy sources - renewable energy to be precise? The country boasts the largest home system of solar energy panels in the world. But here the government's contribution is negligible, if any. Currently the solar technology used makes production of large amount of power more costly than that of fossil fuel. But the technology is improving fast and also the consideration of long-term use of solar panels with no further investment brings down the cost. Options for solar and wind energy, therefore, should be kept open.
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