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ABC News

Published Date: Oct 23, 2013

Report: Iran Gas Imports a Disaster for Pakistan

Pakistan’s plan to import natural gas by pipeline from neighboring Iran
would be an economic "death sentence" for the country because the gas
price is too high, a Pakistani advocacy group said in a report released
Wednesday.

Despite U.S. pressure, the Pakistani government struck a deal with Iran
to import gas in the hope of relieving the country’s energy crisis,
especially the shortage of electricity. Gas is used to fire many of
Pakistan’s power plants, but insufficient quantities mean rolling
blackouts are common.

The Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute said in its
report that the contract with Iran means the gas sold to Pakistan
likely will be several times more expensive than the domestic gas
currently used.

"This is a death sentence for Pakistan’s economy," the report said. It
criticized Pakistani officials who "blatantly ignored the energy
dynamics and its pricing while going for this deal."

An official at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources rejected
the report, saying the pipeline project was good for Pakistan. He spoke
on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to
journalists.

The advocacy group’s findings represent the latest challenge to the
plan. There are also serious doubts about how Pakistan could finance the
at least $1.5 billion needed to construct the pipeline and whether it
could go through with the project without facing U.S. sanctions in place
over Iran’s nuclear program.

"This gas will be an economic disaster for us," said the lead author of the report, Arshad Abbasi, at its release in Islamabad.

The chief guest was Shamsul Mulk, an ex-chairman of Pakistan’s water and
power authority and former head of the advocacy group’s board of
governors. Many other former senior officials and academics are
affiliated with the institute.

The report called on the Pakistani government to renegotiate its
contract with Iran and uncouple the price of gas with the cost of oil.
That could produce lower gas prices that are closer to Pakistan’s
domestic cost of gas.

The agreement with Iran stipulates that Pakistan must construct its side
of the pipeline by December 2014. If the country fails to meet this
deadline, it will be liable to pay fines that could run into the
millions of dollars per day.

The Iranian government says it has built 900 kilometers (560 miles) of
the pipeline on its side of the border, with about 320 kilometers (200
miles) remaining to be built inside Iran. The Pakistan segment of the
pipeline is expected to be about 780 kilometers (500 miles) and has not
yet been constructed.

The U.S. has opposed the project, instead promoting an alternative
pipeline that runs from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan,
Pakistan and then to India. The U.S. also has championed a number of
electricity generation projects within Pakistan, such as helping
renovate hydropower dams.

The advocacy group also championed the use of hydropower, which is much
cheaper than gas but can require significant up-front costs.