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Security force planned for unhindered oil, gas exploration

Updated January 29, 2019

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Government looks to tap oil and gas reserves in country's troubled areas, particularly Balochistan. — File photo
Government looks to tap oil and gas reserves in country's troubled areas, particularly Balochistan. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The government is working on raising a special security force of about 50,000 personnel for ensuring unhindered exploration of oil and gas reserves in the country’s troubled areas, particularly Balochistan where highly prospective zones have remained inaccessible for almost three decades.

This was revealed by Additional Secretary In-charge of the Petroleum Division Mian Asad Hayauddin before a Senate panel on Monday where he reported that seismic work on two promising areas Zarghon and Block-28 would begin by mid-February and March-April, respectively.

He said the matter had been discussed with the Southern Command, the Frontier Constabulary (FC), the provincial government and other stakeholders and would be formally taken up with the prime minister for approval at a special meeting within a week or so. “With a security force of 50,000, we would be able to complete the seismic and exploration surveys (of all no-go areas) in 7-8 years,” Mr Hayauddin said, adding that with the existing force of 200-250 security personnel it would take 780 years to do the same job.

Mr Hayauddin testified that the petroleum division had collected complete details of the working and available rigs and other equipment required for petroleum exploration so that they are quickly mobilised where needed the most once security clearance ensured. He said the annual security expenditure of about Rs14 billion of the petroleum companies could be better utilised for hiring more rigs and seismic and exploration equipment once the government takes over its responsibility of providing security through the proposed special force.

He also reported that the relevant authorities, including the petroleum division were now doing targeted surveys in small pockets with hydrocarbon prospects and required security operations even though overall security had improved. He said the idea was to raise personnel also from Makran who could be moved to parts of Sindh as well or wherever the need may arise.

Mr Hayauddin said FC and Southern Command had promised to give a clearance for the Zarghon area within a week and followed by Block-28 spread over more than 6,200 sq.km of Kohlu district of Balochistan. He said the Block-28 was on top priority of the petroleum division. “We are very encouraged by the support of the Southern Command and Balochistan chief minister who had a very good understanding of the issue, being the former minister of state for petroleum,” he said.

Petroleum Concessions Director General Qazi Saleem said the people in the industry had very big estimates about the Kohlu reserves but the petroleum division has to take a cautious approach because all projections at this stage were just guesstimates and no seismic or exploratory activities could take place in the area so far.

He said Block-28 was originally awarded 27 years ago to a British firm with shares from state-owned majors like the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd (OGDCL), but the security situation, difficult terrain and infrastructure challenges did not allow any physical activity on ground. “Because of no-go areas, even reconnaissance activities could not be conducted over such a long time” he said, adding that the government had now facilitated the sale of stakes of the British firm to Mari Petroleum and the partners included the OGDCL and MOL of Austria.

The representatives of Mari Petroleum and MOL explained that they would enter from the Zarghon area next week for seismic survey or latest by mid-February and then move into the Kohlu area by March-April with security cover of the FC and hopefully complete the seismic survey and exploration in almost a year as per best international practices. Initial targeted area is about 1,478 sq km, he said.

The OGDCL managing director said a cautious approach was required while committing timelines because the security agencies had previously given many deadlines that could not be met even though the overall security situation was much better now. “This is up to the security agencies to clear the no-go areas. They have their own limitations and hence the success to move the crew into the area would be contingent upon the foolproof security,” he said.

The senators from Balochistan during the meeting suggested that involvement of local people through different schemes could also facilitate the exploration activities. They demanded action against officials who were instrumental in signing of Reko Diq and Saindak agreements with foreign firms to the disadvantage of Pakistan and Balochistan.

They said the Tethyan could not operate in the Reko Diq area and was found at fault but was ready to give up the areas against a claim of Rs11bn but the authorities did not take up the matter prudently, leading the firm to seek international arbitration with $12bn claims. They said the subject was now in final phase as the International Court for Investment Disputes had held Pakistan at fault.

Officials said the matter was currently being discussed by the attorney general and provincial authorities for out-of-court settlement and hence Reko Diq and Saindak projects could be discussed in an in-camera meeting at a later stage. They said the Saindak agreement with China had some secrecy clauses.

A participant said preliminary estimates put Kohlu’s natural gas reserves at more than 22 trillion cubic feet (tcf) – almost equal to the country’s total proven reserves at present. More than 15.4tcf reserves are described as ‘recoverable’, he said.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019