Development of petroleum and mining sectors are fundamental to a healthy growth of energy and power sectors, the main drivers of the economic development of a nation.
In both counts Bangladesh falls short of its true potentials. The country is yet to unearth its true natural gas prospects. Also a significant coal reserve based in the north Bengal remains undeveloped.
A robust petroleum and mining development program and a qualified national work force may significantly change if not reverse the notion of almost total dependence on imported fuels in the next decade as envisaged in the master plan.
Considering the growth of gas demand it is reasonable to suggest that the country will run out of its present gas reserves in a decade.
However, geological interpretations suggest that significant gas resources are yet to be discovered in the country in the onshore and offshore areas. Bangladesh has not reached a mature stage of petroleum exploration and all of its gas discoveries are found in simple conventional plays i.e. anticlinal traps in the eastern fold belt in the country.
There remains an area of untapped gas plays known as stratigraphic plays which are theoretically distributed all over the country but hardly explored. Furthermore the unconventional plays like thin bed plays, synclinal plays, tight sand plays, over-pressured plays are areas which have very good geological prospects but little explored.
Some of these kind of prospects are proven by the successes in adjacent Tripura state of India which is geologically same as eastern Bangladesh.
The offshore Bangladesh is the least explored area. The Indian part of the Bay to the west of Bangladesh sea and the Myanmar part to the east, both have registered significant gas discoveries in the last ten years.
Specially the Rakhain offshore basin of Myanmar lying adjacent to the south eastern offshore area of Bangladesh has large and recent gas successes. Considering the fact that the offshore Rakhain Basin and SE offshore Bangladesh belong to single geological entity, gas prospects in the Bangladesh part should be equally bright.
The above discussion leads to the conclusion that the remaining gas prospects of Bangladesh has been underplayed at recent time. On the other hand the planning and implementation to build up infrastructures and logistics for costly LNG have been overly played.
It is understood that import of LNG to tackle the running gas crisis is justified in the face of no alternative available immediately. But the merit of planning major dependence on imported and costly LNG for a long term is certainly questionable.
This will inevitably give the economy a major shock as the power and industrial products generated will be costly and may not be sustainable.
Bangladesh has significant mineable coal reserves stored in four coal fields in the north Bengal. The total in situ coal amounts to an estimated 2000 million tonnes in these coal fields. Only one coal field, Barapukuria has been developed and produces coal at an annual rate of 1 million tonne per year.
Because of the fact that the coal fields lie underneath fertile agricultural land in a thickly populated area and the fact that inherent hydrological problem make open cast mining difficult, the present government’s stand of not to develop open cast mining seems reasonable.
But these coal fields may be developed by underground mines. The recovery of coal by underground mining may be optimized by state of art technology. This will certainly reduce the dependence on imported fuels and will promote self reliance make better economic sense.
At the same time developing a dedicated national expert work force to take the challenges of petroleum and mining development activities is vitally important. Expanding and increasing the institutional capabilities are prerequisite to achieve that goal.
Dr. Badrul Imam is an energy expert and professor of Geology of Dhaka University.