Noted geologist Dr Badrul Imam talks to the Dhaka Tribune’s Aminur Rahman Rasel about energy security issues that could be on the agenda during the PM's India trip
We have heard that Dhaka may discuss several important issues relating to the energy sector, including energy security, with Delhi during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India tour. Why do you think Bangladesh is becoming more dependent on India to ensure its energy security?
Look, Bangladesh is now facing energy crisis. We have inadequate primary energy such as gas, coal and oil. Hence, I think India’s role in helping Bangladesh have enough supply for its domestic demand can be important during the forthcoming talks between the two countries. Bangladesh’s aim should be to make the most from India.
India’s Petronet LNG Ltd and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd has proposed setting up a regasification liquefied natural gas (RLNG) plant in, and supplying RLNG to, Bangladesh. But, India rejected Bangladesh’s proposal to import natural gas last year. Do you think this issue should be addressed?
Bangladesh must think of the possibility of importing gas from India, because there are some gas fields in Tripura and its Paltana Power Plant does not need all the gas extracted from there. So, I believe India, if it wishes, is capable of supplying gas to Bangladesh, helping the latter resolve the ongoing gas crisis. I suggest Bangladesh put some pressure on India to export gas, even if it does not want to.
How much will Bangladesh profit commercially by importing RLNG from India? Do you think Bangladesh’s plan to install some LNG terminals has to be implemented?
Well, I want to answer this topic in two ways. I am not sure if it will be wiser for Bangladesh to become heavily dependent on LNG. Bangladesh government has planned to import 500 million cubic feet (cft) gas, and the amount will be increased to 2,000-4,000 million cft gas in phases. It implies that Bangladesh will greatly bank on LNG in future, but it is also questionable whether such an expensive fuel will be helpful for our national economy. We have natural gas and coal as an alternative to LNG. From geological perspective, I feel Bangladesh has the potential to discover gas fields on the seabed. I really doubt any positive outcome over the signing of LNG terminals one after another. US-based Excelerate Energy inked a deal to build an LNG terminal with 500 million cft gas production capacity in 2016, which will start operations next year. Bangladesh is also going to seal a deal with India’s Petronet LNG Ltd for another such terminal. But, the process to award the contract to the company directly is a different story, since Excelerate Energy got the job in due process. If one or two more companies are engaged to set up LNG terminals, they should be selected through competitive bidding.
Bangladesh has long been trying to get linked to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI), but to no avail as yet. Is it a geopolitical or a diplomatic failure?
The TAPI or Iran, Pakistan, India (IPI) pipeline is a weak point for Bangladesh. Both the pipeline projects have been in global discussion for the last 15-20 years. Bangladesh must understand that it will have to be connected to an international pipeline where the gas resource is massive. For instance, the gas reserve of Iran and Turkmenistan is so vast that it will not finish anytime soon. Pakistan and India are also trying to be long-term partners in the pipeline to help resolve their own gas crisis. If the pipeline reaches Delhi, Bangladesh can also be connected to it. Setting up either TAPI or IPI will be a positive move for Bangladesh.
We can also consider the Myanmar, Bangladesh, India pipeline, similar to TAPI or IPI pipeline. We had a chance to import gas from Myanmar a decade back. What’s your take on this?
It was a mistake for Bangladesh not to agree to the tripartite gas pipeline issue. Myanmar wanted to export its offshore gas to India. Bangladesh could have negotiated on condition of getting gas supply from Myanmar in exchange of permitting installation of a pipeline to export gas to India. In that case, we might not have the gas crisis at present. Unfortunately, Bangladesh did not show interest in it for some reason. Negotiations with Myanmar in this regard will still benefit us. Bangladesh must point out the matter while discussing fuel-related issues with India.
India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) has signed a deal and is already working to explore gas from two offshore shallow blocks. What steps can Bangladesh take for collaboration in its energy sector with ONGC?
The firm is skilled in gas exploration in deep sea and even onshore. The ONGC is working on gas fields in India’s Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. If our local engineers, geologists and geo-scientists get technical collaboration from the ONGC, they will be able to make advances in gas exploration. The ONGC’s database for Tripura is necessary for gas exploration in Comilla, Sylhet and Chittagong region. The firm has already discovered some new gas fields in India using advanced technologies, which Bangladesh is yet to introduce. So, Petrobangla can have technical collaboration with the ONGC.
Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding with India to import diesel through pipeline, for which the latter has demanded high premium. It appears that Bangladesh is lagging behind in negotiations. Will Bangladesh benefit from the move?
If Bangladesh can import diesel through pipeline to North Bengal from Assam, it will have a positive outcome. But, the premium India is charging is too high. If we pay more premiums to India in this case, compared to the global market prices, it will make us incur losses.
Indian Oil Corporation Limited wants to install an LPG plant in Bangladesh. To this end, a MoU has already been signed containing a provision that India take away a share of LPG from the plant, home. Will it be logical for Bangladesh to permit this?
The government is increasing the use of LPG, and rightly so. Expansion of LPG usage is logical, because it is available in many ways. In this case, the government has given licences to several local companies and has signed a MoU with the Indian one. But what matters is how much share the company wants. If it wants a lion’s share of the gas, it will be a losing concern for us. So, the contract will have to be inked ensuring that Bangladesh gets a substantial amount of LPG from the plant.
How should Bangladesh negotiate this issue if it is discussed during the prime minister’s visit to India?
Bangladesh has to be assertive on all the issues. Bangladesh must place the issue very seriously and strongly. Being a friendly state, India has to respond well to Bangladesh’s demands. India has to step forward to sign contracts that are important for us, even if they find it less profitable. India can consider exporting gas from Tripura and reducing high premium of diesel. Technical collaboration with India should also be a top priority for us.