SEVERAL gas consumers are facing shortages and a drop in pressure in Punjab and KP in spite of major cuts in supply to the power and transport sectors as well as captive plants in the industry. The factors behind the current gas shortages are said to be an increased demand for gas for heating and cooking at home as temperatures fall, delay in the arrival of an LNG vessel, and higher gas retentions allowed to SSGCL for power generation by K-Electric. The line-pack of the SNGPL network, which feeds gas customers in the two provinces, is reported to be hovering between 4,100mmcfd and 4,300mmcfd because of reduced supply from the SSGCL system, which provides the fuel to consumers in Sindh and Balochistan. Approximately 4,300mmcfd is the minimum benchmark for safety reasons to maintain adequate gas pressure in the SNGPL pipeline system. Similarly, LNG supplies for the SNGPL network have further dropped to about 850mmcfd from 1,050mmcfd against the promised 1,200mmcfd owing to the diversion of around 160mmcfd to the SSGCL network. Overall, SNGPL is facing a shortfall of 350-400mmcfd as its supplies from both domestic system gas and LNG are reduced to about 1,700-1,750mmcfd against 2,100mmcfd of usual supplies these days, which explains the rising complaints of low pressure from tail-end consumers.
The present gas shortages have come despite the impression given by SAPM petroleum Nadeem Babar a few weeks back that the country would not face a major gas shortage this winter. Mr Babar claimed the government had made an all-out effort to maximise supplies in the gas network through increased RLNG imports. Nevertheless, he warned that consumers at the tail-end of the pipeline network could experience low pressure, which perhaps was a hint at impending shortages. Later developments, such as the government’s failure to procure LNG cargos for the first fortnight of the next month and higher prices of imports, spawned fears of a harsher January and gas rationing by distribution companies, besides underscoring the incompetence of the authorities responsible for the timely import of LNG to fill the supply gap. That those fears have proved correct underscore the lack of proper planning to avert the shortages that have become a part of winter life in the country for over a decade. With the domestic gas resource depleted largely and the supply gaps enlarging, many rightly wonder about the basis on which the claim of having balanced supply and demand, especially when the country has only limited LNG-import capacity, was made.
Gas accounts for more than half of Pakistan’s total energy consumption as it is used for a variety of purposes from cooking to manufacturing fertilisers to fuelling cars to producing electricity. Unless the government takes measures to enhance LNG’s import capacity through the private sector or we stumble upon a significantly large domestic resource, the coming winters will be harsher than ever.
UAE visa issue
IN the field of international relations, sometimes differences between traditional allies do crop up, and it requires deft diplomacy to resolve these issues before they start to have a damaging effect on relations. Concerning the suspension of UAE visas for Pakistanis — as well as around a dozen other mostly Muslim-majority states — that took effect last month, the Emirati government has assured Pakistan that the curbs are “temporary”.
The foreign minister was recently in the UAE and took up the issue with Emirati officials, and the Foreign Office spokesman said on Sunday that Abu Dhabi had assured Islamabad that the restrictions were put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, the UAE foreign minister issued a warmly worded statement hailing ties between his country and Pakistan. These are of course welcome developments, as after news of the ban emerged there were rumours circulating over the nature of the visa suspension. For example, it was being conjectured that the changing geopolitical situation could have been behind Abu Dhabi’s decision. Specifically, the UAE’s acceptance of Israel came as a bombshell in September, while rumours were circling that many foreign friends of Pakistan were also pressuring this country to recognise Tel Aviv. However, if the ban is indeed about Covid-19 — doubts still remain — then the UAE must communicate to Pakistan the steps it needs to take to resolve the issue and ensure that Pakistanis can travel to the Emirates without hindrance.
But questions will linger on about why Pakistan and the other states were singled out for the visa ban. After all, this country, with some 459,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, is by no means more of a threat to the UAE’s health system than India, which has just crossed the grim milestone of over 10m Covid-19 cases, or the US, which tops the global total with nearly 18m cases. Neither of these countries was in the list of countries whose nationals were barred from being issued new UAE visas.
Indeed, the matter is a serious one for Pakistan, as nearly 1.5m citizens of this country live and work in the sheikhdom. While such economic and political ties are important for Pakistan, it is also true that foreign policy decisions must be made on the basis of national interest. The state needs to explain to its foreign allies that while it values ties with them, Pakistan will not be pressured into taking decisions.