Gas crisis in the offing, what is being done about it?

All other crises are likely to pale in comparison to the challenge that may suddenly appear on Bangladesh's energy scene within a couple of years. Bangladesh's dependence on its own gas resources has been built up from beforehand. Presently, 50 per cent of the commercial fuel used in the country is dependent of local gas. There is a prediction that within a few years, this gas supply will see a huge collapse and this will presumably result in the crisis.

There are presently 20 gas-producing gas fields in Bangladesh. The production capacity of most of these is less than 100 units (mmcft) daily. Only four gas fields (Bibiyana, Titas, Jalalabad and Habiganj) are considered the major sources of gas supply. These four gas fields together supply 84 per cent of the total gas produced daily in the country. Of these, two fields -- Bibiyana (1,100 units of gas per day) and Jalalabad (176 units or day) – are run by the US company Chevron. Titas (400 units per day) and Habiganj (130 units per day) are run by local companies, making major contribution to gas supply in Bangladesh over the past 50 years.

Despite the apprehension of local gas supply falling extensively over the next few years, there is no visible large initiative to increase gas reserves or increase production from the remaining reserves

Now let’s us take a look at the state these four gas fields is likely to be in the future, that is, in the near future, to be more specific. Titas and Bibiyana are the country’s largest and second largest gas fields of the country respectively. According to recent sources in the government, Bibiyana’s primary reserves have dropped from 5,755 bcf to the present reserves of only 270 bcf (Hydrocarbon Unit monthly report March 2023). In other words, 95 per cent of Bibiyana total gas reserves have been extracted. The same source says that only 100 per cent of Jalalabad gas field’s has been extracted. And 94 per cent of Habiganj gas field’s gas has been lifted. According to Petrobangla’s own sources, 80 per cent of Titas’ 6,367 bcf has been extracted. (Petrobangla annual report 2021).

The rate of gas production depends on the gas reserves. If there are higher reserves, more is produced and that can last longer. When reserves deplete production falls. Depending on the field, this can suddenly fall rapidly. That means the present rate of production at the Bibiyana, Jalalabad and Habiganj gas fields can suddenly fall in two to three years’ time. If that is so, there it is a matter of serious concern as to what the alternative will be and where it will come from.

It is apparent that despite the apprehension of local gas supply falling extensively over the next few years, there is no visible large initiative to increase gas reserves or increase production from the remaining reserves. The drilling of new exploratory wells, development wells and work over wells that Petrobangla in recent times has planned to implement through BAPEX, is hardly adequate to address the above crisis. The question is, is there any alternative arrangements to address the massive crisis that will emerge in the country’s energy supply with this fall in gas production? How concerned are the policymakers about finding a solution to this?

Before discussing possible solutions, the background of the matter needs to be studied. For the last few decades Bangladesh has managed to carry on with its own gas resources. Even in 2010, power production depended 90 per cent of gas. Till 2016, has production had been on a steady rise. But from 2017 gas production began to fall and this trend continues till the present. While the fall in gas production has been slow, it has had an extensive impact. After all, the use of gas in the country increased manifold in industry, power production, and other sectors.

This became apparent when the government shut down or limited the supply of gas to the power, industrial and residential sector. In order to ease the gas crisis, in 2018 Bangladesh began importing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from abroad at high prices. But with the government’s mounting financial pressure in paying the exorbitant price for LNG, the burden of increased gas costs fell upon the shoulders of the people.

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The question is, why is there a gas crisis in a delta like Bangladesh, replete with prospects of gas reserves? The reason is that while the gas was being extracted year after year and the reserves were dropping, there was no adequate exploration to make up for this. There have only been major explorations on the eastern side of Bangladesh’s territory, and very little exploration to the south, southwest and north. There has been no significant exploration in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the east either. More importantly, there was been no significant offshore exploration either, though neighbouring Myanmar and India are carry out major exploration in their part of the same ocean and with much success too.

Under such circumstances, it is essential that the policymaking authorities of the country take up emergency measures to overcome the impending energy crisis and bring it to a tolerable level.

1.   The two large gas fields of our country, Kailashtila and Rashidpur have primary reserves of over 2 tcf each and remaining reserves of over 2 tcf each, yet gas extraction has been relatively low. It is imperative that the production here be increased immediately. The daily production of Bibiyana, located near these two fields, is 1,100 units, yet though Kailashtila is almost the same size, the daily production is only 30 units and Rashidpur only 45 units. If a good number of new development wells are drilled and work over done on the old wells, high production will be possible. Results can be yielded by implementing a relatively short-term plan.

2.   In 2011 Petrobangla hired a foreign consultant firm Messrs Schlumberger to find ways and means of increase gas production of the wells. After completing their tests, the company identified 49 wells and recommended that these be repaired and renovated, and new equipment used to increase production. These recommendations still have not been carried out. So these recommendations should be taken into immediate consideration and implemented. In a short time it will be possible to get results.

3.   Every year the number of exploratory wells in less explored Bangladesh must be increased significantly. Even two thirds of the areas of the mainland haven’t been explored properly. Very little of the vast offshore potential has been explored, that too, only in the shallow sea. Not a single well has been drilled in the deep sea. Including this in the long term plans is the best means to resolve the gas crisis.

4.   Gas held up due to legal or technical bottlenecks (such as in Chhatak, Feni and other places) must brought to production immediately by adopting quick measures. Also, by using advanced technology widely used overseas, it can be possible to bring the unconventional gas layers (such as tight gas sand, thin bed reservoir, etc) to production.

5.   The four methods above are sustainable and in keeping with the country’s financial management. These will curb dependence on imports and increase the country’s own technical and management competence. Outside all this if there is LNG import in place, this can play a supplementary role when there is a dip in our own supply. LNG import is costly and if we can produce our own gas, this should be halted or at least limited. LNG-dependence though extensive imports will increase financial pressure and this will have a negative impact on the government and the people.

* Dr. Badrul Imam is a professor of geology at Dhaka University

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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