By Dr Sher Khan
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has blamed the federal government of gas supply cut in Punjab, especially in Faisalabad that has led to the closure of business industry in the financial hub of the province. The fact remains as the depleting indigenous reserves of natural gas has plummeted the country in a spiral of energy crisis. By the mid 1980s, the power sector was being reconstructed to accommodate the extensive supply of natural gas.
Consequently, natural gas displaced other fuel sources to emerge as the dominant source reining the energy mix. By 2009, its share in the energy supplied stood at 48.03% and was accounting for 34.3% of the electricity generated. By 2007, the per capita gas consumption ranked stood at 186.959cu/m per capita, ranking Pakistan as the 73rd greatest consumer of natural gas in the world, ahead of all its South Asian counterparts.
Additionally, according to the International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles, as of December 2008, Pakistan has the world’s highest number of vehicles running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The acute dependency on natural gas was fostered by structural changes inspired by government policy and plans and consequently led to the rapid depletion of the finite gas reserves. Today not only has the shortfall between gas demanded and supplied reached alarming heights of 700 MMCFD but it is predicted that even with the generous expectation of new discoveries of reserves, it will be almost impossible to maintain even the present production for long.
Noteworthy are thus the following facts: 161bn CFT of gas reserves have been utilized annually to produce the amount of energy produced by Kalabagh Dam; 2,737bn CFT of gas, 6.17% of the total reserves would have been preserved from 1993-2009 if Kalabagh Dam was operational; Extension of gas availability to the transport sector by 37.7 years and to the household sector by 15.5 years had Kalabagh Dam been built; by 2010 Rs 78.6bn could have been saved in electrical generation if natural gas was displaced as means of generating electricity by hydropower from Kalabagh Dam; by 2010, Rs 124.5bn could have been saved in electrical generation if Kalabagh Dam had displaced oil as means of generating electricity.
The failure to initiate Kalabagh Dam project dealt a severe blow to hydropower development and simultaneously increased the dependency on natural gas. The depletion of gas reserves has inspired frantic attempts to dispel the energy crisis. Imported gas is being considered as a potential remedy and work is already underway to develop pipelines stretching from Iran and Central Asia. The issue of Kalabagh Dam is invoked for the proposed construction of the project coincided with the rapid exploitation of indigenous gas reserves and while the construction of Kalabagh Dam got delayed and eventually shelved, the development of natural gas was undertaken with a religious fervor. In retrospect, this proved to be an unsustainable option that has had far reaching adverse impacts on the economy and lives of the people of Pakistan.
Hydropower is a natural option for energy generation given its vast potential of 56,000MW. Along with a series of hydropower projects the initiation of multipurpose large dams at Tarbela and Mangla were seen as milestones in the hydropower development. Through these dams, cheap, reliable energy was made readily available which in turn fueled the development processes. Tarbela Dam alone, completed in 1997, had by December 2007 reaped benefits totaling Rs. 221,902 million for the national economy which is more than 13.5 times the original cost of the project. After the success of Tarbela and Mangla Dam, the next project in the pipeline was the construction of the Kalabagh Dam which was due to be in operation by 1993. Despite the completion of feasibility studies and initial assessments of the project, the Kalabagh Dam never entered the construction phase. The proposed project was marred by political conflicts and political rivalries which inspired such controversy that despite the resolve of certain actors to push the project forward, the venture entirely collapsed. This was a major setback for hydropower development in the country and it came amidst the almost ecstatic fervor which characterized the exploitation of gas reserves. The Kalabagh Dam would have been instrumental in preserving the finite gas reserves, saving costs of electricity generation and diffusing the cost of damage incurred due to the gas shortfall that eventually unfolded. Yet these factors sank into comfortable insignificance as the country became attuned and heavily reliant on energy from natural gas.
The article is contributed to pkarticleshub.com