Shale Gas Exploration in Search of an Alternative Energy Source

Top of Form  Bottom of Form| | Shale gas exploration in search of an alternative energy sourcePublished : Sunday, 04 August 2013The geo-scientific data gathered so far during exploration of conventional oil and gas shows Bangladesh to be prospective in terms of shale gas deposits. Shale gas many be an alternative source of supply in the near future writes M S Siddiqui

Power and energy are prerequisites for higher economic growth, poverty reduction and social development. Bangladesh is facing enormous challenges to provide affordable, reliable and equitable energy supply to its citizens. A World Bank study shows that the GDP (gross domestic product) growth could be increased by 2. 0 per cent with smooth supply of power and energy. The local and foreign investments are stagnated and many production facilities are unable to start production due to shortage of power.

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Agriculture is either short of water or becomes expensive due to irregular power supply to tube wells. The per capita consumption of energy in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world. Less than half of the population has access to grid electricity. Moreover, frequent power interruptions cause substantial economic losses. Only about 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Consumption of energy and electricity in per capita terms is one of the lowest in the world.

The present consumption of energy and electricity in the country is about 200 kilograms of oil equivalent (KGOE)/year and 130 kilowatt (KWh hours)/year respectively, in which about 65 per cent of its per capita energy is derived from biomass resources. About 55 per cent of the country’s energy supply is based on traditional biomass fuels such as crop residues, animal dung and fuel wood, 24 per cent on natural gas, 19 per cent on imported oil and coal and the remaining 2. 0 per cent on hydroelectricity.

About 85 per cent of power-generating capacity of Bangladesh is gas-fired, but gas supply shortages have seriously affected power generation. Fossil energy resources in Bangladesh consist primarily of natural gas. It is estimated that there is a proven natural gas reserve of around 11. 47 trillion cubic feet (TCF) in approximately 20 fields (mainly onshore). At the current rate of consumption of natural gas for electricity generation, and other sectors in fertiliser, industry and domestic areas, the total reserve of gas is estimated to last for only about two more decades.

This estimate is also debatable. In addition to natural gas, Bangladesh contains small proven crude oil reserves of 5. 4 million barrels and produces around 2,900 barrels per day. This hardly meets oil requirements, and emphasis has been directed towards imported fuels. The recent discovery of sizeable coal deposits in the northwestern part of the country is of significance since its supply will greatly reduce pressure on the imports, but the coal exploration policy has remained hanging for years and the country is unable to extract the coal to meet the huge demand.

The annual consumption of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) in Bangladesh is about 92,500 tonnes, out of which 22,500 tonnes are available from natural gas and crude oil, and the requirement for the remaining quantity i. e. 70,000 tonnes, is met through import. Bangladesh is yet to construct a landing station for import of LPG in bulk import at a lower transportation and handling cost. Almost the entire requirement of fuel is met through import (about 1. 2 million MT of crude oil along with 2. 6 million MT of refined petroleum products per annum).

Bangladesh imports about 0. 6 million tonnes of coal annually to meet the domestic demand in the industrial sector and for generation of electricity. It is calculated that at 7. 0 per cent growth rate, the demand of electricity will be about 28,000MW in the year 2034. In order to meet this huge demand, a large number of installed capacities are required. In our calculations, we consider the types of power plants based on gas, imported coal and oil, and the proposed nuclear plant and others.

The micro-hydro and mini-hydro electricity plants have limited potential in Bangladesh, with the exception of Chittagong and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Hydropower assessments have identified some possible sites ranging from 10 KW-capacity to 5 MW-capacity, but no appreciable capacity has yet been materialised. There is one hydropower plant at Kaptai, established in the 1960s with the present installed capacity of 230 MW. Solar energy is gaining popularity in Bangladesh. NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and private organisations are implementing the solar energy programme.

There is a big potential of solar energy in the country. Wind energy has also made some inroads but its potential is centred mainly in the coastal areas, and offshore islands with strong wind. These coastal settings afford good opportunities for wind-powered pumping and electricity generation. Presently, there are 2 MW of installed wind turbines at Feni and Kutubdia. Bangladesh has strong potential for biomass gasification-based electricity. More common biomass resources available in the country are rice husk, crop residue, wood, jute-stick, animal wastes, municipal wastes, sugarcane wastes etc.

This technology can be disseminated on a larger scale for electricity generation. Biogas mainly from animal and municipal wastes can be one of the promising renewable energy resources for Bangladesh. At present, there are tens of thousands of households and village-level biogas plants in place throughout the country. It is an easy source for harnessing basic biogas technology for cooking, and rural and small township electrification to provide electricity during periods of power shortfalls. Other renewable energy sources include bio-fuels, gasohol, geothermal source, river current, wave and tidal energy.

Potentials of these sources are yet to be explored. The global energy scenario is gloomy. The world reserves of non-renewable fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are fast depleting and are already past the peak oil production levels. Extraction of new oil and gas, both offshore and onshore, is getting increasingly difficult and expensive. Although coal still dominates the energy map, growing environment consciousness and limited progress in clean coal technology are bound to restrict the use of coal in the not-too-distant future.

The massive nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following earthquakes and a tsunami has thrown policy makers of various countries in a quandary about the future of nuclear power. Limitation of technology and related costs are also not creating a conducive situation for renewable energy such as those coming from solar, wind, hydro and ocean wave sources to make significant contribution to the long-term energy security. The situation in Asia will worsen due to the increasing demand for energy, thanks to high economic growth, but the continent will be lagging behind in production of sufficient energy.

By 2035, most Asian countries will produce less than half the energy they need, and many, like Bangladesh, will produce only a tiny fraction and will remain heavily dependent on energy imports, in particular oil, for the foreseeable future. India has a plan to export some small quantity of electricity to Bangladesh, but it will not have enough power to export in the near future. Against the backdrop of global energy situation, shale gas appears to be an alternative source of energy. Shale gas refers to natural gas that is trapped within shale formations.

Shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas. Shale gas is considered to be unconventional gas, along with coal-bed methane and tight gas. It is a natural gas that may be obtained from shale formations that act as both the source and the reservoir for the natural gas. It is one of a number of unconventional sources of natural gas, as are methane hydrates. Shale gas areas are often known as resource plays (as opposed to exploration plays) in that natural gas is explored within the shale beds which have different haracteristics when compared to sand formations. The methane content of natural gas in Bangladesh is very high. Gas shales are organic-rich shale formations. In terms of its chemical makeup, shale gas is typically a dry gas primarily composed of methane. In 2000, shale gas provided only 1. 0 per cent of US natural gas production; by 2010 it was over 20 per cent and the US government’s Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2035, 46 per cent of the United States’ natural gas supply will come from shale gas. Some analysts expect that shale gas will greatly expand the worldwide energy supply.

China is estimated to have the world’s largest shale gas reserves. A study by the Baker Institute of Public Policy at the Rice University concluded that increased shale gas production in the US and Canada could help prevent Russia and Persian Gulf countries from dictating higher prices for the gas they export to European countries. The geo-scientific data gathered so far during exploration of conventional oil and gas, some on land sedimentary basins and offshore areas, shows Bangladesh to be prospective in terms of shale gas deposits.

Global energy companies have shown interest in determining shale gas prospects in the country. The interest to review the existing well logs of selected areas, establish shale plays and their lateral extents, establish thickness and depth of the shale plays, review existing geochemical data of the shale formations and identify areas for further investigations will hopefully prove highly fruitful one day. A report suggests that the US proposes to enter into a partnership with Dhaka in the energy sector.

It would provide specialised equipment to explore and draw shale gas. The growing interest of the West in gas sector of Bangladesh points to a promising stock of shale gas. The government has appointed, according to the Financial Express of July 12, a German firm DMT GmbH & Co. KG to study the country’s shale gas potential. The DMT GmbH has been asked to submit its report by October. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide funds to the firm for conducting the study.

Bangladesh is far behind when it comes to production to meet the demand, and the future situation will worsen with the increased demand for power, since the country’s economy is growing at the rate 6. 0 per cent of GDP with a targeted double-digit growth by 2020. Shale gas may be an alternative source of energy in the near future. It requires intensive techno-financial and environmental feasibility study. The writer is pursuing PhD in Open University, Malaysia. [email protected] com| | |

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