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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 19:02 GMT
Bangladesh edges toward gas exports
Bangladesh gasworks
Gas could be a window of opportunity for Bangladesh
By the BBC's Waliur Rahman in Dhaka

Bangladesh's Energy Minister, Mosharraf Hossain, says the country's economic condition may force the government to decide to export natural gas to India.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hossain said a decision allowing foreign companies to export gas to India via a pipeline will be taken by November.

A vocal lobby opposed to exporting gas says current gas reserves could barely meet the country's domestic demand over the next twenty years

The US oil giant Unocal has submitted a proposal outlining its plans to export gas, but the government's opponents have vowed to resist such a move.

Bangladesh's foreign currency reserves have recently fallen to a billion dollars, equivalent to a month's imports.

Economic compulsion

The minister says this has left the government with two options - either export gas to India, or cancel the agreements signed with foreign oil companies exploring for gas in Bangladesh.

He says his ministry received export proposals from companies involved in gas exploration after the new government took office earlier this month.

Demonstrators
The gas issue has united diverse opposition groups

The minister says if exporting is found to be economically beneficial, the government will definitely decide to allow it.

A vocal lobby opposed to exporting gas says current gas reserves could barely meet the country's domestic demand over the next twenty years.

Supported by the opposition Awami League, this lobby claims exporting gas to India would not be in the national interest.

Massive reserves

But a joint survey by the state-run Petrobangla corporation and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) suggests that Bangladesh's gas reserves could reach as much as sixty-one trillion cubic feet (tcf).

This would be enough to meet domestic demand for 170 years at the current level of consumption.

Mr Hossain's comments followed Unocal's proposal to construct a pipeline connecting its gas fields in eastern Bangladesh to the Indian capital Delhi and the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Unocal says the export of gas from its Bibiyana gas field in Bangladesh's Sylhet region will bring in an estimated 3.7 billion US dollars in revenue for Dhaka.

It would also attract much-neded foreign investment to the country.

Political opposition to gas exports is likely to continue but business leaders have supported the move to export gas.

Businessmen have asked the government to seek special trade facilities from India and a right to import electricity from Nepal and Bhutan across Indian territory.

The minister says said these proposals will be considered when deciding on gas exports.

If exports begin and bring in the kind of revenues being talked about, Bangladesh could reasonably expect to escape the grinding poverty most citizens are condemned to now.

See also:

19 Oct 00 | South Asia
Trade tops Hasina's agenda
18 May 00 | South Asia
US berates Bangladesh red tape
20 Mar 00 | South Asia
Gas deals await US firms
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