Gas crisis deepens

September 28, 2013

No hope of improvement before mid-Oct
Gas crisis deepensSurging illegal consumption together with spiralling demand on the one hand and a slight drop in production on the other has created an unusual gas crisis in the capital in recent weeks.
When production is expected to increase keeping pace with a 10 percent annual growth in demand, the Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd is actually getting lesser gas this September than that in the corresponding period last year, mainly because a gas field in Fenchuganj has been shut down for maintenance.Petrobangla sources say the country’s  largest gas distributor has seen a daily shortfall of 20 million cubic feet (mmcf) this month, compared to the past few months and also September last year. And it is the domestic users and the CNG pumps that are bearing the brunt of this.
Such a shortfall, however, should not have been that big since Titas deals with more than 1,400 mmcfd gas — more than half the country’s gas distribution. But a top official of the company says this 20 mmcfd is on top of a steady shortfall of 200 mmcfd gas within the Titas areas.
“Everything is so tight that a little drop in supply causes the gas pressure to drop,” he said.
The Fenchuganj field is expected to resume operation in mid-October, and the situation is not likely to improve before that.
But utter lawlessness prevails centring on illegal gas connections, which are contributing much to the problem.
“Through surveys and field information, we gather that there is massive pilferage of gas in Rupganj, Siddhirganj, Keraniganj, Araihazar, Sonargaon, Savar, Dhaka Beribadh, Mirpur, Nandipara and Matuail,” said the Titas high official.
But Titas officials are unable to disconnect the illegal lines. Mobs, backed by local influential people who help install these illegal lines, even beat up Titas officials when they go there to disconnect the lines. A general manager of Titas was assaulted and had to be hospitalised for 10 days in recent months.
“We face unusual resistance even when magistrates, Rab personnel and other law enforcers are with us,” said the official, citing the instance of a mob chasing a Titas team in Rupganj recently.
In the face of a shortfall in production, the government in mid-2010 imposed a ban on new gas connection. Earlier this year, the Petrobangla chairman hammered on lifting the ban, saying there were many consumers who took connections illegally and they should be regularised. The government lifted the ban, saying the illegal consumers would be legalised first and that new applications would be considered later.
This announcement encouraged thousands more to obtain illegal lines. Eventually, so far, nearly 1,75,000 illegal consumers have been regularised.
“But we found that there were still many users in underdeveloped areas. People there even use PVC pipes to drain out gas, which is very dangerous,” said the Titas official.
Sometimes Titas employees and contractors were found involved in this illegal practice. Of late, Titas blacklisted four contractors and transferred two of its employees in this connection.
In addition to this problem, the age-old distribution lines have developed leakages in many areas of the capital. Titas is unable to replace those for lack of funds.
While some Petrobangla officials argue that the gas shortfall has been triggered by its excessive use in the power sector, the reality is many power plants are producing less power than their capacity due to gas shortage.
“Gas supply to power sector remains around 489 mmcf per day. It did not increase much compared to that in last year,” said the Titas official.

-With The Daily Star input

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