In a time of global energy crisis for reasons including Covid-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war, energy experts have called for increasing dependence on local resources including gas produced in the country, solar plants, and Kaptai hydropower plant.
"We do not know where the oil prices will go because of the war. We should be cautious for three-four years. We need to increase our own capacity," said Policy Research Institute Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur at a roundtable on "World Energy Crisis and Challenges of Bangladesh" on Saturday.
Editors Guild Bangladesh organised the meeting chaired by Mozammel Babu, president of Editors Guild Bangladesh, at Dhaka Gallery in the capital.
"We have to make sacrifices. The government gains in loadshedding but people lose. Whether this war goes on or not, the price of gas will come down at some point. After 2030, there will be no cars other than the electric ones in the world. Oil prices will come down after the next 5-10 years. Gas prices will also gradually decrease," said Ahsan H Mansur.
Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) Chairman ABM Azad said, "From 1999 to 2013-14, the BPC incurred losses of around Tk53,000 crores. It had to be covered by maintaining the supply chain. Around Tk8,000 crore has been returned to the government, but Tk27,000 crores of debt still remain."
Commenting BPC's profit of about Tk45,000 crores, the BPC chairman explained the government has been continuing fuel imports sometimes with loans, sometimes with bond facilities. The government provided BPC with support of about Tk44,800 crores in different forms.
From 2014-15 to 2020-21, the BPC made a profit of about Tk42,992 crore.
"From this amount, Tk8,000 crore have been returned to the government. Projects involving Tk34,261 crore have been taken, which are fully funded by the BPC. Twelve of these projects – each involving around Tk5,000-6,000 crore – are currently going on. This money was not spent anywhere, it was invested in various activities," said the BPC chairman.
Answering another question, he said, "In 2019, and during Covid-19 pandemic the price of oil dropped so much that we had capacity to buy but we did not have the capacity to stock it."
In response to the question whether he wants the National Board of Revenue to waive taxes, the BPC chairman said he does not want to give any opinion here because the entire tax structure is a government policy.
"BPC will follow the decision that the government will take from the political position," he said.
In response to the question whether the BPC is efficient enough, its chief claimed the agency has the efficiency needed to maintain the country's fuel supply.
"The internationally accepted rate of pilferage is 0.3% where that rate here is 0.2%," he claimed.
Replying to a question whether diesel can be imported with the Darjeeling-Parbatipur pipeline, the BPC chairman said it has not been launched yet as the work is in progress. It will basically cover the diesel demand of the Northern region of Bangladesh.
At the meeting, Energy expert Professor Dr Ijaz Hossain said, "There is no problem with oil, the problem is pricing. Why will oil money go to other sectors? Administered price is nothing like that. The loadshedding happening now is also a systemic problem. The entire power system of the country is on the wrong track. The process by which BPC is determining the price of fuel oil is not correct."
Mollah M Amzad Hossain, editor of "Power and Energy" magazine, said, "Everyone admits that there is no alternative to increasing fuel prices at the moment. But, do we have the ability to import LNG? We have to increase our own resources. They should be used in production. Attention should be given to gas-coal exploration."
The former chairman of Petrobangla Dr Hossain Mansur said "Various development projects are implemented with peoples' money – the tax collected from them. So, the government manages how much it will earn from which sector, how much it will spend, and which sector will be subsidised."
Regarding the price hike, he said, "The prices are always increased suddenly. If it was increased with prior announcements, then there would be no oil in any petrol pump. The government can increase the prices if it wants and it has done that for the welfare of the people."
He said, "from 2009 to 2014 we have set up five exploratory wells and found gas in three of them."
Geologist Professor Dr Badrul Imam said, "Exploration is such a thing that it does not happen quickly. It takes time. There is geological evidence that our country is enriched with gas. Everyone at home and abroad knows it. One has to look back a long time to understand how much progress has been made in this gas exploration."
"The first gas well was dug in Bangladesh in 1910. Exploration basically started after 1950. At present there are 98 exploratory wells, while 28 gas fields have been discovered. The ratio of exploratory wells and gas fields in the world is 20% but here it is around 30%. There is still much potential."
Former General Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association Dr Jamaluddin Ahmed said, "There is nothing to be disappointed with the situation in Bangladesh. If we had not had our shortcomings, we would have done much better. We will definitely need coal. We have to keep those in our control."
Pointing out that there is up to 22 hours of loadshedding in many parts of the country, he said, "We have to manage the load properly. Load distribution is uneven across the country. It will be a discrimination if there is 22 hours of load shedding in villages and no loadshedding in cities."
Former chief secretary to the prime minister and former power secretary Abul Kalam Azad suggested increasing the use of solar power and coal-based power widely to solve the problem of electricity.
Energy expert Khandaker Abdus Salek also suggested increasing dependence on solar power in agriculture.
Awami League's Information and Research Affairs secretary Dr Salim Mahmud said, "BNP came to power promising to export gas, but they could not. It sent a negative message to the international market. However, after the Awami League came to power, the Gas Development Fund was established in 2009, and we won areas at sea in disputes with India and Myanmar."
Former General Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association Dr Jamaluddin Ahmed said, "Energy demand needs to be adjusted. In many parts of the country there is no electricity for a long time. Load management should be done properly. However, winter is coming, so there is no reason to fear."