In reverse gear

July 02, 2011

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PAKISTAN continues to flounder. The 2010 Environmental Performance Index ranked 163 countries on 25 performance indicators across 10 policy categories covering environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. We came in at 125.

The 2011 Asian Green City Index, a study analysing the 'green' performance of 22 major cities, placed Pakistan's largest metropolis, Karachi, at the bottom, in the 'well below average' category.

In 2006, the World Bank reported that annual degradation of its ecology was costing Pakistan $365m, equivalent to six per cent of the GDP. Since economic growth at that time was also around six per cent, this was simply a case of taking one step forward and one step back. Recent WB data, however, shows yearly degradation swelling to $485m, equivalent to over seven per cent of the GDP. As economic growth is now below three per cent, Pakistan is actually in reverse gear.

To pretend to tackle this backward movement, two Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) hearings were conducted this week by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa). The first dealt with the extension of the Nestle bottled-water plant in Port Qasim Authority (PQA) industrial area, which was relocated in 2007 from Education City under the orders of the Sindh High Court (2005 CLC 424, 2007 PLD 11), which found that the extraction of water in large quantities from underground aquifers would disturb the environment. Under the fifth-century common-law Public Trust Doctrine, natural resources such as air, water, and the sea and its shores are gifts of nature and must be kept freely available to everyone.

NGOs also pointed out at the 2007 EIA hearing that the brine waste products of the underground-water desalination had a higher level of pollutants and salts than was allowed by the National Environmental Quality Standards for effluent entering municipal sewers and treatment plants (which PQA does not have) or the sea, into which PQA dumps untreated, toxic sewage, slowly decimating marine flora and fauna. Ignoring everything, Sepa issued a clearance to Nestle.

Last Tuesday's hearing had concerned citizens expressing the same objections again, while asking why Sepa had not been monitoring the situation on a quarterly basis over the past four years, complying with 2007 no-objection-certificate conditions in accordance with the law. The disposal of PET plastic bottles was also an issue of concern, as most containers are not recycled and find their way into landfills and water bodies in which over a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals die every year from ingesting plastic debris.

The second hearing examined the GasPak Liquefied Natural Gas terminal proposed at Chan Waddo Creek near the mouth of the Indus. This column has previously extensively covered the potential fire and explosion hazards to other shipping (40 per cent of Pakistan's traffic), fishing vessels and nearby habitations from possible terrorist activities against LNG carriers and terminals in PQA's jurisdiction. Although the terminal itself is not actually situated in the channel, incoming LNG tankers will come up the Ahsan Channel for about 25km alongside other vessels and will require massive security arrangements.

Citizens attending the hearing were extremely critical of the quality of the EIA report (full of mistakes, plagiarised material, poor primary-data investigations and inadequate information on the project and re-gasification process). It was prepared by the same consultant who last year submitted a similarly low-quality report on the Turkish rental-electricity barge anchored in Korangi Creek (with fraudulent data on prevailing wind direction and the amount of air pollution being showered on the residents of Karachi, especially Korangi).

Sepa was taken to task for not subjecting the LNG EIA report to mandatory preliminary scrutiny before asking for public comments. It seems that such critical EIA processes are spiralling into mere formalities heavily tainted by political influence and bureaucratic corruption, contributing to the WB-identified intensification in ecological deterioration in Pakistan. Under attendee pressure, Sepa directed the consultant and proponent to submit an amended EIA report incorporating rectification of all lacunae identified at the hearing.

The upgrading of the EIA report and the subsequent 30-day public-study period will probably not suit the Turkish firm, Global Energy Infrastructure, which is determined to fast-track its approvals. With a former (1991-93) federal minister of environment as an advisor/facilitator, a retired petroleum and natural resources federal secretary as local CEO, and an ex-managing director of the Sui Southern Gas Company on the project team, this foreign entrepreneur has developed the muscle required in Pakistan to sprint ahead of leading local competitors GasPort (which has already secured Sepa clearance) and Engro-Vopak (whose Sepa no-objection certificate has been held up for over two months). LNG World News

Pakistani companies resent the fact that GasPak, which recently came up from behind, is being favoured by the powers that be. reports: “Every government department is going out of its way to help little-known Global Energy … It has been issued relevant licenses in a matter of months, while other companies have waited years.” The press revealed in May 2011 that the company's effort to bypass the EIA process was reluctantly turned down by the PQA.

While 17 expressions-of-interest for LNG import were recently submitted to the Sui Southern Gas Company, which is retaining a consultant to identify parties for pipeline capacity allocation, industry wisdom estimates that a maximum of four LNG terminals can be accommodated for the time being — two at the PQA and two at Khalifa Point at the other end of Karachi's shoreline. Much of the imported gas can be 'wheeled' (transported through pipelines) to private buyers in the north of Pakistan.

While there is no doubt that we need more gas, can we not import it safely, use it more efficiently, promote renewable energy, protect the beleaguered environment and make conservation of energy our daily motto?

arfc@cyber.net.pk