A recent opinion piece by the minister for petroleum has taken to opposing shale gas in preference for LNG. To put things in context, it must be noted that, at present, Pakistan struggles to meet a demand of up to 7 billion cubic feet per day against a production of 4bcf per day. The production of indigenous natural gas is declining, and the rate of new discoveries cannot match the demand. It must also be noted that current surveys do not point to any major discoveries of conventional natural gas reserves.
Pakistan’s energy crisis stemmed from a reliance on depleting natural gas reserves, and a consequent shift to oil. Until 2005, Pakistan’s power sector relied on a steady supply of natural gas, which was about 48 percent in the power mix. After 2006, we increased our power generation dependence on oil instead of gas. Pakistan’s power sector became a hostage to circular debt, as huge subsidies were given as a result of the tariff differential on oil.
To meet the burgeoning natural gas demand, we have multiple options. For pipelined gas, the transnational pipelines – the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline – are options. For LNG, Pakistan has been focused on importing LNG from Qatar. While conventional gas reserves are running out in Pakistan, we have estimated technically recoverable reserves of 105 tcf of shale gas and 9.1 billion barrels of shale oil.
In the US and Canada the daily production of shale gas is 32bcf and 4bcf. In China and Poland, besides heavy spending, the production is 600 and 150 million cubic feet per day respectively. In India, where the two oil and gas giants failed to unlock shale gas mainly because of complex geology and lack of accurate data.
It is important to note that Pakistan shared its geological data as part of the US Geological Survey (USGS) from 1955 to 1970, while India and China were not on the US bloc during the cold war. We had obtained multi-million dollar grants from the US to the set up a geological survey of Pakistan, including development of laboratories and facilities in all over the country.
The world’s fifth largest company by revenue and top shale gas player, ExxonMobil, then Vacuum Oil Company in 1954, had discovered the Uch and Kandhko Gas reserves. Other companies also landed in Pakistan for oil and gas exploration. One the biggest advantage of these companies was accuracy in maintaining log-data since 1956, which later on helped in analysing the key parameters, depth, structure, and two key indicators – TOC (total organic content) and thermal maturity (Ro) for assessment of Shale oil and gas.
Given the aforementioned facts, it must be underscored that shale gas cannot be discredited because of its huge potential, estimated to be enough for the next 70 years. Shale gas can be a real game-changer for Pakistan. Assessments of our shale gas potential are based on log data being compiled by oil and gas exploration companies.
When I was invited to witness the Marcellus Shale Basin in Pennsylvania, the experts there were surprised that Pakistan was not working fast towards shale gas. Apparently we are sitting on a goldmine with our vast exploitable potential for shale oil and gas. It is disappointing that even with the possibilities, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources failed to formalise a shale gas policy and is instead just focusing on LNG imports. The price of imported LNG was kept secret as it was projected as the only panacea to Pakistan’s energy crisis.
Some are now making false assumptions on the use of water and the cost of shale gas, without knowing the fact that only half a million acre is required for unlocking 8bcf. Before launching an anti-shale oil and gas campaign, the minister ought to know that the ‘guar’ plant grown entirely in the Indian subcontinent has emerged as a major cash crop in Pakistan as it is used in the proppant in the extraction of shale gas.
Shale Gas may therefore even bring a green revolution for the farmers of Sindh and Balochistan. The unlocking of Shale Gas may bring a major incentive which will help the life the Thar, when they get right price for Guar beans.
But the most illogical argument of the campaign is the comparison of imported LNG and cost of unlocking shale. It shows ignorance of the basic concepts of energy security, the importance of the national economy and jobs creation. The most glorious advantage of shale gas is the potential massive job opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled Pakistanis. Working in the heart of the energy sector, we have worked closely on shale oil and gas development, recognising the vast possibilities to boost economy, and energy in Pakistan. The report suggests that development of shale oil and gas may be sufficient to fulfil the gas and oil demand for almost next 50 years.
Achieving this self-sufficiency through the development of these resources, the country would be able to save $15 billion, thus eliminating the trade deficit. It also looks at the strong nexus exist between energy and employment generation. The report informs that development of shale oil and gas is more labour intensive as compared to conventional resources, especially the drilling phase, which can accommodate both skilled and semiskilled labour. It is estimated that around 75,000 jobs would be generated during shale oil and gas exploration and would offer sustainable livelihoods in the least development areas.
A shale oil and gas industry for the future of Pakistan will generate vast investment opportunities. Shale gas exploration and production may have the ability to transform our economy and revolutionise the existing energy mix within the country.
Naysayers ought to consider these factors and present solid facts and research before putting shale gas on the backburner. In the PML-N manifesto, the party promised to address the challenge of unemployment. Using energy as a driver of economic growth, and utilising indigenous resource must be on the top agenda for energy security. Therefore, it is time for the prime minister to take a decision to end the red-tape that surrounds shale gas.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.