ISLAMABAD: Taking seriously a threat by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to start street protests against gas loadshedding in the province, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has convened a meeting of all stakeholders on Monday to consider ways and means for equitable distribution of energy shortfall across the country.
Sources told Dawn the prime minister had asked all the stakeholders, including ministers for petroleum and water and power, heads of gas utilities and gas producers, to come to the meeting with recommendations for minimising the impact of gas shortfall.
Mr Sharif has also been invited to the meeting, the sources said.
The prime minister’s initiative may be seen in contrast with a tirade launched by two federal ministers – Petroleum Minister Syed Naveed Qamar and Law Minister Babar Awan – last week, calling upon the Punjab government not to politicise ‘a technical issue’ by giving it a provincial colour.
The sources said that senior officials of the ministry of petroleum and natural resources and gas companies spent the weekend putting together facts and figures of various gas fields and supplies to different consumers to be able to convince the prime minister that except for technical difficulties in some areas, the shortfall had already been distributed among all the provinces without any discrimination.
Mr Sharif had accused the federal government and the gas companies of adopting a discriminatory approach in gas supply to the industrial sector in his province and threatened to stage a march on the Mall in Lahore along with labourers and industrialists to protest against the loadshedding decision that had forced a number of factories to close down.
After facing a gas shortfall higher than the last year’s, the government had announced discontinuation of supply to industrial sector and CNG stations for two days a week to ensure uninterrupted supply to domestic and commercial consumers.
However, industrial units in Karachi have remained less affected, partly because the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited is believed to be better-managed as its size is smaller as compared to Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited which has a much larger network and relies heavily on Qadirpur gas field and Sui field – both on a declining trend. In recent years, officials say, increased production from new gas fields in Sindh has contributed to improving supplies in the province.
Soon after the gas load management plan was announced for winter earliar this month, associations representing manufacturers, including the value-added export-oriented textile units, took to the streets in Lahore to protest against the decision.
The federal law minister had accused the Punjab chief minister of trying to give a political colour to a technical issue to cover up his “governance weaknesses”.
The sources pointed out that the government had also not been able to provide 183MMCFD of additional gas to the power sector that the energy summit presided over by the prime minister and attended by four chief ministers had agreed to in April this year to ease rising electricity costs.
Also, expected quantities from Kunar Pasakhi field could not be brought into production because of litigation and a controversy between the ministries of petroleum and water and power.
The country’s current average gas production stands at 4BCFD against total proven reserves of about 33 trillion cubic feet (TCF), enough to maintain current supplies for more than 20 years. But the shortfall is also estimated to increase to more than 2BCFD in 2013-14 and 5.08BCFD by 2019-20. More than 9 per cent of the gas production is lost to the system losses.