KARACHI, Jan 15: Motorists with CNG-powered vehicles had to return empty-handed from most filling stations across the country on Saturday as distribution companies continued to face shortage of compressed natural gas.

The closure of the Sui purification plant following a rocket attack on it last week is responsible for the shortage and low pressure of gas. Over 700 CNG stations in the country have been hit by the gas shortage as have been households, factories, power plants, etc.

The situation has also started a blame game with distribution companies questioning the wisdom of connecting the CNG stations to the domestic network. "CNG stations cannot operate below a 5psi (pounds per square inch) pressure. But domestic consumers need only a quarter of a psi. In a crisis-like situation, separate arrangements cannot be made for CNG stations," a top official of the Sui Southern Gas Company told Dawn.

He held out the assurance that the supply situation in the country in general and in Karachi in particular would not worsen. However, CNG dealers remained sceptical.

The chairman of the CNG dealers association of Pakistan, Abdul Sami Khan, said that hundreds of filling stations across the country had to shut down operations during the peak hour. "The SSGC had previously announced that Karachi would not be affected by the shortage.

The claim turned out to be hollow," he said. A senior official of the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) said that currently the gas supply was 25 per cent less than its demand in Lahore and added that domestic consumers in Cantonment, DHA, Faisal Town and Sanda were facing low pressure problems. He said that CNG stations were unable to operate during peak hours.

A motorist with a CNG-powered vehicle wondered why the government had promoted the use of CNG when it could not ensure an uninterrupted supply of natural gas.

He said gas should be provided to at least urban areas on a priority basis. A housewife said gas load-shedding had started early in the morning. "One wants to cook things fast in the morning.

But that was when the pressure of gas supply was so low that it took me a long time to prepare the breakfast," she said, adding that domestic consumers should not be forced to suffer load-shedding in the morning and in the evening.

HYDERABAD: Meanwhile, the SSGC authorities asked powerhouses at Jamshoro and Kotri and industrial units in Hyderabad SITE, Kotri and Nooriabad to undertake load management on their own as the normal gas supply could not be ensured due to the situation prevailing in Sui.

The SSGC asked the Jamshoro thermal powerhouse to use furnace oil for operation of three units of 210 megawatts. A source in the powerhouse told Dawn that they had been advised by the SSGC not to exceed the gas consumption by 53 million cubic-feet daily (MCFD), which is the minimum allocated quota of the powerhouse. Under maximum quota, the powerhouse can use 80 to 90 MCFD of gas.

The source said that imported and expensive furnace oil would have to be used to operate the power generating units. The SSGC, faced with a shortfall of 110 MCF of gas, also asked the industrial units to prepare themselves for a reduced supply.

The supply made by the SSGC caters for people who consume around 1150 MCF of gas on a daily basis. The consumption is met through supplies from the gas fields in Sui, Bhit, Qadan Wari and Badin.

Agencies add: An SSGC spokesman announced a schedule for cuts in gas supplies to domestic users in Karachi and several other cities. He urged consumers to conserve gas to avoid further cut.

An SNGPL spokesman said the company could halt supplies to more industries if the situation worsened. Sui produces one billion cubic feet of gas per day, about 45 per cent of the country's total production.

The Pakistan Petroleum Ltd, which operates the Sui gas field, said that damage to pipelines and the main purification plant had been more extensive than at first thought and officials believed that repair work would take several days.

Talking to PTV, SSGC managing director Munawar Baseer Ahmed said that domestic customers had been requested to reduce their load and use the gas carefully. He said the company would ensure that the customers had full supply of gas on Eidul Azha.

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