The issues of energy security are more and more becoming crucial in the backdrop of shortages of power, gas and conventional fuel oils. Recent events have brought into sharp focus the energy-related problems which are increasingly showing up at the ordinary consumer level. These problems should be resolved for maintaining the tempo of new investments in the economy.
Higher economic growth is desired by policy planners and businesses as well as all those who want poverty to decline at a faster pace in the country. But this vital economic growth is also much dependent on adequate energy supply. Recently, well established industries in Bangladesh such as the garments industry have been going through a difficult period due to frequent power failure and inadequate gas supply. Other export-oriented industries like those of ceramics, frozen food, leather goods, etc., have been suffering similarly from regular long periods of power shut-offs in their premises.
It is not that the country lacks in energy resources. Its proven reserves of gas are not very formidable. But there is the possibility of finding huge reserves of gas and also oil. Good reserves of coal have been found in Bangladesh which are estimated to have potentially more prospects than the gas reserves for producing energy. Thus, the main problem is how best and how quickly the indigenous energy sources can be tapped to supply enough power and gas for the acceleration of economic activities. And this is possible only under a comprehensive plan for energy exploration and production that would promote and safeguard the country's vital economic interests.
A new energy policy is being drafted. There should be emphasis on exploring for more gas as well as to produce the same in greater quantities at the earliest. Gas is not only the direct source of energy or raw material for a range of industries in Bangladesh. It is also used in a huge quantum to generate power. Thus, a short term improvement in the energy situation rests on speeding up exploration and production of gas. And for this, the country's own gas exploration and production company, BAPEX, needs to be given special encouragement with funds and authority since it has a much better and safer track record in finding and producing gas than the foreign companies operating in Bangladesh. There should be a policy to extensively popularise the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in the road transportation and allied sectors for reducing dependence on imported fuel oils in the medium and long runs. The existing oil refinery at Chittagong needs to add to its capacity and new ones must be set up so that the costs of using imported petroleum fall as a result of refining in Bangladesh. The coal reserves will have to be used pragmatically without affecting the environment. Coal should be used substantially for power generation in the country and exported the surplus quantity, if there is any.
Piecemeal planning which are now the characteristics of energy use in the country must give way to very judicious use of energy at all phases -- in the short, medium and long runs -- under a well conceived and strictly implemented energy policy to ensure the country's energy security long into the future.