The LNG deal and the masters of spin
The Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources published an oped article in these pages in August defending his ministry’s actions in the LNG process. The ‘facts’ cited in his article deserve to be refuted separately. The minister makes simple facts sound complex to confuse laymen, going so far as saying: “LNG procurement is a sophisticated process and cannot be explained by so-called ‘energy experts’ with a few baseless statements.”
Owing to space constraints, this article will not be able to address all points, but the most glaring inaccuracies that stick out are:
Projecting the country’s demand for natural gas as just “Pakistan’s projected demand of 15 million tonnes per annum of LNG”. This is a grave distortion of facts that leaves a reader thinking that there are no alternatives to LNG. Global LNG trade started in January 1959 in more than 42 countries through gas pipelines, with a volume of 24 trillion cubic feet. LNG volume in more than 25 countries is 12 tcf. The import price is made public and, prior to that, due diligence and analysis on price in the local economy. Pakistan’s ‘LNG saga’ is unprecedented. The country has a natural gas shortfall of an estimated 3 bcf/day, but alternatives of pipelined gas, exploiting indigenous resources and natural gas demand conservation through efficiency and controlling 15 percent losses (UFG) cannot be ignored.
The LNG price quoted ignores what the final cost would be to a power plant, because even on a FOB basis, the landed price plus the charges of regassification, charges to SSGC, SNGPL or other entities involved would apply. What would be the cost of electricity generation when the cost of LNG, as stated by the minister, is $8.2 and $8.6 per mmbtu? Is it not the true that total cost at doorstep after price addition is $11, $12 or $13/mmbtu? This matter is not explained, and the actual cost is ambiguous.
The official figures of oil-based generation are around Rs9 per unit. The average cost of generation has remained Rs5/kwh, using domestic gas that costs $4.5. What will be the cost of generation when power uses LNG at three times the price? In fact, according to the NTDC, which is responsible for transmission and distribution of power, regassified LNG is costlier than furnace oil! The average cost of generation was Rs5.57 per unit using natural gas, Rs9.9 using FO and Rs13.88 using high speed diesel. This is publicly available knowledge, but has been ignored.
The “LNG Terminal will yield a minimum of $1 billion in annual savings for Pakistan’s power sector and displace over $3 billion annually in oil imports”. This is another distortion of facts. Anyone with a simple knowledge of mathematics and an eye on global oil price will not buy this. Brent crude oil is around $48/barrel at present, and the minister’s calculations of savings were made when oil was above $100/barrel. Energy pundits say prices may plunge to $35 and will be in the $60/bbl range for 2016. Does long-term LNG fit in that scenario?
Is an energy mix dependent on imported natural gas and oil even a viable option? The assumption that demand stays constant and cannot be controlled is flawed.
Our minister, as usual, is not paying heed to the changes around him. It is disappointing that even though the organisations working under the minister have some of the best experts in the country, yet the ministry has only a single-minded focus: LNG. This is at the expense of efficiency, unaccounted for gas, serious management issues, and petroleum supply chain management; heck, even the Energy Yearbook, an annual publication has not been published! Yet despite the fact that the ministry has one single-minded focus and mission, it has failed to evaluate the LNG deal with transparency and due diligence. It has had to heckle with its own people,to sell a price that would be unaffordable, instead of negotiating with the Qataris or other LNG exporters.
Even after more than two years, the tender has not been conducted in a transparent manner and the criteria for choosing Qatar has not been made clear to the public. The best they have managed is a ‘world record’ in completion of an LNG terminal (even that was being used as a makeshift Floating, Storage and Regasification Unit – FSRU, instead of a legitimate terminal). Did our nation have to pay the capacity charges if the terminal stands idle? I presume that the senior management of the terminal must be waiting for smooth operations and a 24/7 flow of LNG cargo, to fill the barren pipes.
The biggest argument that the ministry has been using is that gas-fired has better efficiency than oil-fired. The minister didn’t consider this, though: what is the efficiency of the existing power plant?
So why does this esoteric ‘efficiency’ matter? My bill is directly proportional with the efficiency of the power plant; if the plant has higher efficiency it will consume less diesel, gas or oil.
Let us suppose the price of RLNG will be around $12 per mmbtu, including all charges, then electricity generation cost will jump to Rs14 per unit more than diesel. The share of diesel based electricity generation is only 1.6 percent. Last year, its share was 1,642 million units out of 99800 million units of electricity generated – only 1.6 percent. Thus a total of Rs22 billion were spent to generate 1642 million units.
But the minister is committed to saving Rs300 billion replacing diesel. This only happens in a country where accountability is for not for all. Will NAB wake up when another deal is made? In the event, the only remedy will be international courts. In that sad event, the decision will not be much different from Hubco vs GOP. The victims, as always, will be the 22 million electricity consumers in the country.
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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.