Domestic consumers are bracing for long hours of gas outages as they are likely to receive supplies for only eight hours a day to meet cooking needs when the winter season hits its peak next month.
The main problem would be encountered on the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited’s (SNGPL) network, particularly in Punjab, due to the scarcity of gas.
According to The Express Tribune, Punjab’s own gas production stands low when compared with other provinces which include Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Sindh and Balochistan.
Under Article 158 of Pakistan’s constitution, gas producing provinces have the first right to consume their own production.
Therefore, in the peak winter, the energy situation may be better in other provinces but the domestic consumers in Punjab will be worse off as they will be getting gas for cooking purposes in the morning, afternoon and evening for limited hours.
According to sources, the gas supply has so far been better in the ongoing month. However, it is feared to decline sharply with harsh weather next month.
SNGPL’s network, which covers Punjab and K-P, would be facing a shortfall of 300-400 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) from December 2022 to March 2023, sources said.
Therefore, it will be forced to slash supplies to the domestic consumers, captive power plants of industries and compressed natural gas (CNG) filling stations.
The CNG sector in Punjab has already faced restrictions on domestic gas supply and relies on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), but it is not readily available due to the failure of Pakistan LNG Limited (PLL) to procure spot cargoes.
In December, the CNG stations in K-P may also experience supply curbs if the situation deteriorates in the wake of rising gas demand.
According to sources, there will be no disruption in the provision of gas to the processing industry, however, supplies may be cut to the captive power plants in peak winter.
At present, the total number of gas consumers in Pakistan is 10.65 million. Of these, Punjab has 6.43 million and K-P 997,904 consumers. In Sindh, the consumers are calculated at 2.92 million while Balochistan has 304,468 consumers.
Over the past many years, the gas supply has deteriorated with no major discoveries and fast depletion of existing reserves. Estimates suggest gas flows will drop further and go down to 1,659 mmcfd in 2029-30.
According to industry experts, after a major discovery in the Qadirpur field before the year 2000, there have not been any big finds in the country.
Owing to the rapid depletion of natural gas reserves, the cheap gas-based power plants have remained under-utilised.
At the same time, in utter disregard to the dearth of locally produced gas, the gas schemes of parliamentarians have continued to win over voters in their constituencies. This has resulted in a hike in gas prices and further shortfall in flows.
The shortage has also caused the shutdown of industrial sector that is the backbone of the economy.
So far, no government has set its priorities right for better use of gas, which can be diverted to the power plants for supply of cheaper electricity to the consumers.
Experts point out that Pakistan has a vast electricity network and the government should give priority to the power sector in gas supply.
Earlier, the imported LNG was provided to consumers like captive power plants and fertiliser producers at discounted rates. But now the expensive LNG is not available in the country due to its rising demand internationally in the wake of Russia-Ukraine war.
“The government should immediately stop piped gas supply to the domestic consumers and provide liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at concessionary rates to save the precious resource for expansion of the industrialisation base and boosting exports,” an expert suggested.