Make BAPEX stronger for energy security

Ever since substantial deposits of oil and natural gas were found in Nigeria, the African country climbed in esteem as a probable prosperous entity in the African continent. But decades after finding the energy resources there , expectations of a better life of the people of that country based on these finds, have evaporated. Some Nigerians did flourish and turned very rich all right. But they were the bigwigs of a corrupted authoritarian regime that had kept the general people of that country in fetters and paved the way for looting of its natural resources by international oil companies (IOCs). They clicked deals with International Oil Companies (IOCs) for underhand commissions completely compromising Nigeria’s national interests . Thus, the ministers and other potentates in the repressive Nigerian government could overnight acquire big bank balances in safe havens abroad and become owners of luxurious real estates at foreign destinations.
The Nigerian case is a classic of what the IOCs are capable of in plundering a country’s energy resources if it happens to be unlucky in not having capable and honest governments . A country of this nature is infiltrated by the IOCs. Their first move is to create some loyal agents in the government and gradually they attempt to have controlling positions in decision-making in the vital area of energy exploration and production. Side by side, they acquire underhand influence in the media and other opinion makers in that country. Ultimately, the outcome of all these is the IOCs having mastery over the energy resource of such a country.
It should not be an overstatement to say that Bangladesh has been developing (albeit gradually) into one such model case during the last two decades. Bangladesh which has had substantial capacities for energy exploration and production within its land territories, was purposefully made into a pathetic case in this area to justify the bringing in of the IOCs. The national organization for exploring and producing energy sources was stripped off its role and esteem in public eyes through cleverly calculated moves. It was decimated by wooing its officials and experts away to the IOCs with promises of fat salaries and perks. Developmental allocations were purposefully denied to it so that it could gradually become disabled in every way. Even the buying of a few rigs had to be put off from non availability of funds. Energy ministers and others in key controlling positions to direct the country’s energy policies were allegedly turned into hand maidens of the IOCs through briberies. Specially, these things happened under past BNP led governments. Some of these cases were only divulged in a face-saving manner under the previous elected governments at the fag end of its existence.
But members of the present government who claim to be crusaders in righting all major wrongs of the past and who are verbally committed to making safe the country’s progress in the vital areas that include exploitation of energy resources and energy planning, it becomes a very serious obligation for them to leave their mark in this sphere on a sustainable basis. They will have to go to the roots of the conspiracies that have already led to the country losing control over a notable party of its energy resources. IOCs now sit astride Bangladesh and claim as their own the very gas in its soil that belong to Bangladesh and its people alone. In the name of investments, they are selling gas produced in Bangladesh to Bangladesh itself. And not only this, Bangladesh has to buy its own gas from them at prices which are much higher than the ones that the state owned bodies of Bangladesh charge various gas users who are supplied gas from wells under the government’s ownership and control.
The on going processes of gas exploration and production has become controversial from allowing foreign companies to play too important a role in these activities at the cost of the local endeavour. Foreign companies have been ruining gas reserves of the country from careless exploration methods. Huge quantities of gas were wasted from accidents by foreign companies in past years at Magurchara and Tengratila.Some of these companies are selling gas to Bangladesh in foreign currencies after production from ready-made fields. This is causing more a drain of the country’s resources in contrast to whatever gains are there from augmented supply of gas from the operations of these foreign companies.
But Bangladesh has its own gas exploration and production company, BAPEX. It has a far better record than the foreign companies in successfully exploring for gas and producing it. Its record is an enviable one of finding gas in one out of every three wells dug by it. The record of the foreign companies is a poor one in comparison. Besides, BAPEX enjoys a very clean reputation for safe operations. But developmental funds have been withheld from this vital organisation on this or that plea when the opposite should have been the case to build the longer term energy security of the country. It was not even provided with resources to buy a rig or two to carry out drilling activities. The need to spend about $2 billion at the current rate for fuel oil import certainly is a formidable pressure on the foreign currency reserve and a major unnecessary drain of the country’s resources. This drain seems absolutely unjustifiable when the country has local energy available that can be used extensively to much reduce consumption of imported fuel oil. If $ 2 billion can be spent to import and consume fuel oil, then giving a small fraction of this amount to BAPEX will enable it to step up its gas exploration and production ventures. The added gas reserves found by it can then be used up extensively to substantially reduce the dependence on imported fuel oil. Experts say that BAPEX also has the capacity to find large reserves of petroleum in Bangladesh. Petroleum was found at Haripur in Sylhet in the eighties by the predecessor of BAPEX. But production and further exploration for petroleum was deliberately turned off there . The same experts maintain that there is a conspiracy to purposefully undermine the country’s energy sector. The conspiracy needs to be foiled. If this can be done then what such a development will mean for the country’s balance of payments and the health of its foreign currency reserves should be obvious.