Fears of gas shortage
Once again, it is likely to be our winter of discontent. In recent years, the country has been facing a gas shortage in winter when it is needed the most. Like last year, this winter, too, a gas crisis is being predicted, as there is a plan to continue to avoid the use of furnace oil in power plants. This will likely lead to the suspension of oil and gas supplies from some fields. Oil refineries might reduce their production if power plants don’t lift furnace oil as it is expensive compared to the locally-produced gas and imported LNG. In the previous winter season too, oil refineries had cut production and threatened to shut down their plants following refusal by power producers to buy furnace oil. The cut in output by refineries led to the closure of some oil and gas fields. This led to a reduction in the supply of locally-produced gas and this sparked a crisis.
Last year the government had asked refineries to export furnace oil and set up conversion plants. Oil industry officials say it was not feasible as furnace oil prices in the international market were lower compared with the prices of the locally-produced furnace oil. Besides, the setting up of conversion plants is a capital-incentive process. The Power Division secretary told a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday that they would take fewer LNG supplies for power plants and would not run the plants on furnace oil. He said LNG-based power plants were outside the priority order. Officials say the stock of furnace oil would start piling up again and a similar situation could arise that had been faced last year. They claim power producers gave wrong projections of furnace oil and gas demand, and it is causing problems for the entire oil and gas industry.
The country has been experiencing CNG rationing for the past several years. The power supply has lately improved, but it is yet to be back on the rails. Now there are fears of another gas crisis this winter. All this shows there is something amiss in managing the affairs of the energy sector.
Kashmir has been jolted into destruction yet again. However, the extent of the damage – from the earthquake occurring around 4 pm on Tuesday – is much smaller than what this Paradise on Earth suffered on October 8, 2005. Still, dozens of precious lives were lost – 37 according to media reports and 25 according to the National Disaster Management Authority, the NMDA. The number of injured also runs between 450 to 500, according to different estimates.
The tremors were also felt in parts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but it was Mirpur in Azad Jammu and Kashmir that bore the major brunt. The earthquake measured 5.6 on the Richter scale — mild by the region’s standards — but its epicentre was only 22 kilometres below the surface near Mirpur, meaning that the impact was far severer than most quakes of equivalent magnitude. The worst-hit areas were Mirpur city, the town of Jatlan, and Manda and Afzalpur villages, where buildings and homes collapsed, motor vehicles overturned, mobile phone towers and power poles got severely damaged, trees were uprooted and roads split open. A few damaged canals in the area also reportedly flooded, but the water was mostly absorbed by the Jhelum river. A bridge connecting Bhimber and Mirpur as well as Munda bridge were also damaged along with Jatlan road. However, the nearby Mangla power plant was said to be fully operational after being taken offline for a short while.
Surprisingly, Indian officials in the occupied regions of Baramulla, Jammu, and Srinagar all issued statements saying there was no damage due to the earthquake, despite the epicentre being just 30 kilometres west of India-Occupied Kashmir. Analysts here in Pakistan, however, believe that the denial of any damage by Indian authorities was part of the communications blackout imposed in the wake of New Delhi’s revocation of the special status accorded to the occupied state.
The jolts in Mirpur must jolt the authorities into proper action. Especially with the winter setting in and rains expected too, the rescue and relief operations – being carried out by emergency services as well as the Pakistan Army – must continue at a fast pace and in a well-coordinated manner. While the NDMA chairman, at a news briefing in Islamabad, detailed the relief and rescue activities, he went to great lengths to downplay the extent of the damage, giving a death toll lower than that being reported in the media and saying that only 100-odd people were ‘seriously’ injured. He also said that most of the damage was to infrastructure.
Be that as it may, the government must ensure all the necessary responses – adequate allocation of emergency funds for reconstruction and relocation; swift release of the allocated funds; transparent utilisation of these funds; proper coordination among the various emergency responders; etc. Besides, in a region prone to shaking, it’s best to be prepared as part of a long-term strategy. There is a need to work on and devise an adequate post-event plan as well. Government agencies, policymakers, citizens and businesses must collaborate on how to manage earthquake risk and speedier recovery. Relevant government agencies need to sit with earthquake professionals and work together on how best to respond to and recover from major earthquakes. The authorities must now start focusing on developing a culture of preparedness.
We cannot afford a repeat of the mistakes of the 2005 earthquake, memories of which are still fresh in the lives of the millions of people who were unfortunate enough to have lived through it, and suffered in the aftermath.