Intro: Bharat is looking at diversifying the sources of its energy procurement with the objective of giving a new dimension to its energy security. Narendra Modi-led Government has given a new edge to the gas pipeline diplomacy as one of the cornerstones of meeting Bharat’s growing energy needs.
Bharat, right now, the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world, is working towards attaining energy independence by the year 2030. Currently, the country is dependent on imports for meeting a lion’s share of its energy needs—80 per cent of its oil, 18 per cent of its gas and more than 20 per cent of the coal. With the Bharateeya economy, all set to become the third largest in the none too distant a future, the energy consumption in the country is expected to go up by a substantial extent.
The rapidly plummeting global oil prices can not be, in any way, an indicator of the energy security for the world at large. Despite the crude oil prices occasionally plummeting to less than US$40 a barrel, an energy starved world, cannot afford to remain complacent. Clearly and apparently, the geo-political uncertainties in the major oil producing regions of the world, could cast a dark shadow over the global energy security matrix.
The transportation of crude oil by huge tankers across the oceanic stretches continues to be the most favoured option for the import of fossil fuel. But this option is costly and is also fraught with security risks. In fact, unarmed oil tankers continue to be the easy target of sea pirates on the lookout for a huge and easy ransom. Further, during the times of tension and crisis, many vital sea lanes can get blocked. For instance, the concern in China is that in the event of a crisis with US, be it over the Taiwan Strait dispute or the South China Sea imbroglio, the US might be in a position to cut off the flow of oil to China.
In view of the high cost and environmental fall outs associated with the use of fossil fuel, natural gas has become a much sought after commodity. Natural gas can easily be transported across a large distance through pipelines, spanning both the land routes and oceanic stretches. Significantly, deep sea gas pipelines are considered a better option in comparison to overland gas pipelines. For one, the deep sea pipelines don’t face the kind of security concern normally associated with the land based pipelines. Moreover, in recent years, the deep sea pipeline technology has come of age. In this context, the proposed Bharat-Oman deep sea gas pipeline project, meant to transport 8-trillion cubic feet of eco-friendly, natural gas, over a period of two decades, could be an economically alluring option for Bharat to augment the energy security. As envisaged now, the pipeline is planned to be about 1300-km long, involving an estimated cost of US$4-5 billion.
Like China, Bharat too is looking at diversifying the sources of its energy procurement with the objective of giving a new dimension to its energy security. And it is in the fitness of things that the Narendra Modi-led Government has given a new edge to the gas pipeline diplomacy as one of the cornerstones of meeting Bharat’s growing energy needs. Incidentally, Bharat follows the US, China and Russia in total energy usage, accounting for 4.4 per cent of the global energy consumption. Against this backdrop, the energy hungry Bharat is looking at the speedier implementation of TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipe-line project. For Bharat, the Turkme-nistan flagging off the ground breaking ceremony for this 1,820-km long, US$10-billion pipeline project implies a major boost for giving a new boost to the energy security of the country.
Bharat, which is all set to become the third largest energy consumer in the world by 2025, is keen on drawing strategic advantages from TAPI gas pipeline project. Sometime late last year, Turkmenistan’s ambassador to Bharat, Parakhat H Durdyev, had informed that countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh had evinced interest in joining this pipeline project. On another front, the project offers a great opportunity for the participating countries to speed up the pace of their national development.
While for Bharat, Pakistan and Afghanistan, TAPI project will be an economically viable conduit to get the much needed, eco-friendly source of energy, for the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, the pipeline project implies opening up of a new, lucrative market for its un-tapped gas reserve. Further, for Turkmenistan, TAPI also marks a much sought after break from the Russian domination over the pipelines passing through the Caspian region. TAPI will pass through Herat, Helmand and Kandhar regions of Afghanistan to Quetta and Multan in Pakistan before terminating in Fazilka in Bharateeya Punjab. At the landing point at Fazilka, a network of pipelines, managed by the state owned Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) will carry 38 MMSCMD (Million Metric Standard Cubic Metre Per Day) gas to various consumption points spread across the country. As it is, GAIL has already inked the GSPA (Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement) with Turkmen GAZ, the national energy enterprise of this Central Asian Republic.
All said and done, Bharat has enough reasons to worry about the safety and security aspects of this strategic gas pipeline project. In Afghanistan, it will have to negotiate not only the treacherous and rugged mountain ranges but also abundance of landmines. In addition, the remnants of Taliban and other radical militia groups could very well pose a threat to the pipeline. Further ahead, the pipeline will pass through the trouble- torn Balochistan province of Pakistan where a Baloch separatist movement is on ascendance.
Previously, most of the gas from Turkmenistan used to transport to Russia. However, with Russia discovering new gas fields, it is no more in need of gas from Turkmenistan. And with the economic downturn in Europe showing no signs of abatement, there are a few takes left for the gas from Turkmenistan. As such, TAPI stands out as a win win development for this Central Asian country.
Indeed, during the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit held in Brazil in July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Bharateeya Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the possibility of building another pipeline running parallel to TAPI pipeline. “If implemented, such a pipeline now seemingly futuristic, would be the biggest ever energy project in the history which would enhance India’s energy security,” said Russian ambassador to Bharat, Alexander Kadakin.
Meanwhile, energy experts in Bharat are of view that Bharat, which is committed to developing Chabahar free port in Iran, should re-join the pipeline project meant to carry Iranian gas to India via Pakistan. Originally, the Iran-Pakistan-Bharat gas pipeline was envisaged to link the South Paras gas field in Iran with Bharat through Pakistan. Bharat withdrew from this strategically significant energy pipeline project, presumably under US pressure, though Bharat cited reasons of security and pricing of gas. Right now, Iran is pursuing only Iran Pakistan section of the pipeline. Diplomatic sources in Tehran are of view that if New Delhi wishes, the pipeline can be extended to Bharat. Meanwhile, with a consortium of Bharateeya companies expecting to bag a $5-billion worth rights to develop Farzad gas field in Iran, hopes of building a gas pipeline linking Iran with Bharat, by by-passing the exclusive economic zone of Pakistan, have been on ascendance.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is freelance columnist
who writes on science, tech and defence related issues)