ISLAMABAD, March 5: After failing to get the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) do its bidding, the Petroleum Ministry has approached the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to close down the CNG stations in the country that have completed their mandated 15 years.

In its pursuit of phasing out the use of CNG (compressed natural gas) in the transport sector, the ministry has sent a summary to the ECC, stressing that natural gas is too precious a resource to be burnt as auto fuel.

“CNG stations should be allowed to start LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) business instead,” says the summary suggesting LPG be promoted as alternative to CNG and petrol.

When the ECC holds its scheduled meeting on Wednesday, the petroleum ministry wants it to issue policy guidelines to Ogra that not only stop the regulatory authority from granting five-year extension to CNG stations that have been in operation for 15 years but also cancel the extensions already granted.

Ogra regulations limit the initial operating licence of a CNG station to 15 years, but allow it the option to seek two five-year extensions.

Though the CNG industry entered the transport fuel market in the mid 1990s, it became the favoured fuel in 1998 with the opening of a huge number of gas stations across the country. This year a significant number of them complete the 15-year term of the licence.

Today, over 3,500 gas stations are in business in the country - 2,250 of them in Punjab alone. But the cheap CNG they had been supplying to more than 3.5 million vehicles is in crisis and running low.

In the face of the crisis, the petroleum ministry has maintained that the CNG consumes around 21 per cent of natural gas supply with the result that little is left for the domestic consumers and industries, including the fertiliser and textile units.

So the ministry has been pushing for phasing out CNG from the transport sector.

However, the All Pakistan CNG Association (APCNGA) has rejected the idea of closing down the gas stations which have completed 15 years of operations as a conspiracy against the people.

“Some politically well-connected officials in the petroleum ministry are bent upon damaging CNG sector. By forcing the more expensive petrol upon them, they would add to the economic woes of the people,” said Ghiyas Abdullah Paracha, Chairman Supreme Council APCNGA.

CNG has the potential of saving the country’s foreign exchange and combating pollution, he added.

The APCNGA feels the summary moved by the petroleum ministry to the ECC to close down CNG outlets is “a plot to deprive people of economical fuel, plunge millions in the transport sector into unemployment, and lay waste to investments made in this sector”.

In a statement Mr Paracha dismissed the ministry's summary as “impractical, having nothing to do with the ground realities and everything with the personal ambitions of the elites”.

An urgent meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the APCNGA has been called to devise “a counter-strategy”.

A member of APCNGA said association members were likely to approach the courts in various parts of the country to get stay if ECC went along with the petroleum ministry's proposals.