POWER & PETROLEUM: Energising Indo-Bangladesh Bilateral Ties

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Dr. Badrul ImamBy Dr. Badrul Imam

Dr Badrul Imam is a Supernumerary Professor in Department of Geology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His current areas of studies include petroleum geology; energy resources – oil, natural gas, coal, renewable energy; energy potentials of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar; energy crisis and solutions.

India, a trusted friend of Bangladesh, has played an important role in the power and energy sectors. At present, 1160 MW power is being imported by Bangladesh from India. Similarly, in the area of oil exploration an active collaboration and cooperation between the Indian exploration agency ONGC and the Bangladesh counterpart BAPEX (of Petrobangla) may create win-win situation for both the countries.

Bangladesh’s power and energy sectors are at a cross road of major transition from an underdeveloped to a developed one in the face of a rapid industrial growth required for transforming the nation into a middle income country. Radical changes in the power skyline are visible, whereby the sleepy villages are being transformed into major power hubs to facilitate the achievement of targeted 24,000 megawatt (MW) generation capacity by 2021 thus fulfilling the government’s pledge to provide electricity to all by 2021.

Over the last 10 years, the power generation capacity of Bangladesh has increased from 4,900 MW (in 2009) to 18,900 MW (in 2019). Also, the country is transforming from a natural gas based mono-energy status to one of a multiple energy mix with natural gas, LNG, coal, nuclear, oil, imported power and renewable, mainly solar energy. This will give the country a better future energy security, although it would make her highly dependent on imported energy (LNG, coal, gas, nuclear. oil and cross border power).

Bangladesh aspires to secure an affordable and sustainable energy source as per the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-7). This implies achieving economic means to sustain the import based energy supply. Alternatively local energy sources may be developed in earnest specially exploring the huge potential of natural gas resources in the offshore and exploiting the indigenous coal resource in the country thus offsetting the imported energy requirement.

India has been a trusted friend of Bangladesh and shows keen interest in the development issues of Bangladesh. It has played cooperative role in power and energy sectors since early years of the latter’s stride to development. In the power sector, the major role India is playing presently is in the form of crossborder power trading. At present, 1160 MW power is being imported by Bangladesh from India. This comprises 1000 MW from West Bengal through the western boarder point Bheramara-Bohrampur and 160 MW from Tripura though the eastern border point. Power import is expected to increase from Tripura point to 500 MW. Additional power import has been planned from 1600 MW coal power plant being built in Jharkhand, India. Also a regional power grid from Assam through Bangladesh to Bhutan and Nepal has also been in the planning stage to facilitate power trade.

Power import prospects from Nepal and Bhutan, both having very high hydropower potential, (potential of Nepal 42,000 MW and Bhutan 24,000 MW) have for long time attracted the attention of neighbouring countries. At present, both the countries have very little hydropower generation with Nepal generating only 2% of the potential and Bhutan only 6% of the potential.

India has invested in hydropower development in Nepal and Bhutan and engaged in power import for several years. Bangladesh has shown keen interest in importing power from both Nepal and Bhutan. Previously there was one problem for Bangladesh in initiating power import from Bhutan or Nepal through Indian territory/ corridor. That is, according to Indian power import/export guideline, power import through Indian corridor had to be done through Indian agencies thus barring power trade bilaterally between Bangladesh and Nepal or Bangladesh and Bhutan. Last year India has revised the cross-border power trading regulation, thus easing Bangladesh import electricity from Nepal and Bhutan.

According to the revised guideline two separate states can purchase electricity from each other in which India will participate in or approve by way of tripartite agreements. Thus it will now be possible to directly import power from Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh, India and Bhutan have been negotiating to sign a joint venture agreement on 1125MW Kuri-1 hydropower p roject in Bhutan.

Bangladesh government has a plan to invest $1 billion in the hydroelectricity project in Bhutan. Bangladesh has also signed MOU for power import trade with Nepal. Bangladesh projects that the power import from neighboring countries will increase from 1160 MW at present to about 5000 MW in 2030 and to about 9000 MW in 2041. Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal are expected to come under regional grid connection and the expected growth of cross border power trade between these countries will certainly bring mutual benefits.

India’s participation in power projects in Bangladesh also includes constructing coal fired 1230 MW power plant at Rampal. The supply of diesel fuel from Indian refinery to Bangladesh, supply of LNG and building LNG based power plant are among other collaborations Indian entities have been planning and implementing in Bangladesh.

Natural gas resource has been the most important energy source supporting the economic drive for a long time in Bangladesh. The gas production over the last ten years has increased from 1750 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) in 2009 to about 2850 mmcfd in 2019. However the depletion of the known reserves will not allow the gas production growth to continue further. This has prompted the government to supplement the natural gas supply with imported LNG. This is a logical immediate measure required to keep the economy running, although the wisdom of an expensive LNG to have major share in the energy mix for long term future has been questioned by energy economist. Exploration of “yet to find” gas resource to add to the known reserve is suggestively a more viable alternative for the above.

Petroleum explorations in Bangladesh since 1950s have proved Bangladesh a natural gas rich province. Geoscientists believe that Bangladesh gas resource potentials are far greater than the presently known reserves and a large volume of “yet to discover” natural gas lie underground especially in the offshore Bay of Bengal. Historically hydrocarbon exploration in Bangladesh has been slow and insufficient. In the land area, Bangladesh and the adjacent Indian state of Tripura share similar geological prospect for gas, as both are part of the Bengal Basin. While petroleum exploration in Bangladesh has remained immature, exploration in Tripura has achieved a higher degree of maturity. For comparison, Tripura with an area of about 10,000 sq km has drilled 140 exploration wells, while Bangladesh with a land area of 144,000 has drilled 80 exploration wells.

Exploration capabilities and expertise in India have, therefore, grown better than that of Bangladesh. An active collaboration and cooperation in exploration between the Indian exploration agency ONGC and the Bangladesh counterpart BAPEX (of Petrobangla) may create win-win situation for both. Petrobangla may include Indian exploration geoscientists in its external technical advisory body in the same way the German and the British exploration geoscientists used to be included in the technical advisory body during 1980s and 1990s.

Looking at the offshore, the Bay of Bengal is shared by Bangladesh in the middle, India to the west and Myanmar to the east. The Bangladesh offshore has two adjacent petroliferous Basin in the Indian offshore part, i.e., Krishna Godavari basin off Andra Pradesh and Mahanadi basin off Orissa, both of which are rich in hydrocarbon oil and natural gas. There is a good scope of government sponsored collaboration between Bangladesh and India through petroleum exploration agencies in the field of offshore exploration. State to state initiative for creating a bridge for petroleum exploration issues will bring benefit to both the countries.

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