ISLAMABAD, Dec 20: Pakistan is facing a severe energy crisis and its oil consumption has gone up by about 80 per cent mainly due to law and order problem in Balochistan, increased village gasification ahead of elections and low hydel power production, senior government officials said.

The situation is such that the government is considering restrictions on night-time commercial activity across the country to conserve the amount of energy available.

As part of conservation measures, the proposal to observe Saturday as second weekly off has again come under consideration.

According to a senior petroleum ministry official, the consumption of furnace oil this year rose by about 80 per cent to 18 million tons compared with 4.5 million tons last year owing to higher electricity demand mainly in the Wapda system. This alone is expected to increase Pakistan’s oil import bill to $7.5 billion against budgeted projection of $6.5 billion.

A senior official with the water and power ministry said the government was holding back-to-back meetings on the situation to come out of severe energy problem. One such meeting took place at the Prime Minister Secretariat on Wednesday. The ministries of water and power and petroleum were earlier directed to prepare an energy conservation plan, envisaging short and long-term measures.

The petroleum ministry official said the gas supplies to power sector lowered by about 20,000 million cubic feet (MCF) in the last six months. This was caused by the law and order problem in Balochistan, enhanced gas supplies to residential consumers due to severe winter and provision of new domestic gas connections to rural areas in view of the forthcoming elections, he added.

As a result, he said, gas supplies to general industry and cement sector in Punjab and the NWFP were either stopped or drastically reduced because of lower availability in the system of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL). The gas supply to these two sectors in Sindh had also been reduced but the situation in the SSGCL system was relatively better than that of SNGPL, he added.

The reduction in gas supplies has resulted in increase in furnace oil consumption. Besides, Wapda’s electricity production from hydel resources has also reduced by about 3 to 4 per cent this year because of lower withdrawals by provinces from reservoirs in the wake of timely rains a few weeks ago.

Secretaries of petroleum and water and power were not available to comment on the situation when contacted.

A finance ministry official also confirmed that Wapda had sought about Rs50-60 billion in foreign exchange to meet its furnace oil import requirement or else it would be left with no other option but to resort to a severe loadshedding. He said that Wapda was facing financial crisis because of this additional burden resulting from a mismatch between fuel consumption and import requirements.

The finance ministry had, however, asked the utility to contain furnace oil consumption, he said, adding that it would not be an easy option for Wapda unless the option of loadshedding was allowed.

An official at the Planning Commission said Pakistan was most likely to face a major energy crisis in natural gas, power and oil in the medium to long term (next three to four years) that could choke the economic growth for many years to come.

Based on official estimates, he said, Pakistan’s total energy requirement would increase by about 48 per cent to 80 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) in 2010 from about 54 MTOE currently, but major initiatives of meeting this gap were far from turning into reality.

Major shortfall was expected in the natural gas supplies, he said.According to official energy demand forecast, the demand for natural gas, having about 50 per cent share in the country’s energy consumption, would increase by 44 per cent to 39 MTOE from 27 MTOE currently.

Partly contributed by gas shortfalls, the power shortage was expected to be little over 5,250MW by 2010, he said.

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