One of the worst decisions of the BNP-led government in 2004 was the rejection of the Indian proposal to lay a gas pipeline from Myanmar to India through Bangladesh. This could enable us to share part of the gas and significantly reduce our dependence on the import of costly oil (and perhaps LNG) to meet our energy needs. China immediately grabbed the opportunity and built a 2,806 km pipeline from Myanmar to China with a maximum discharge of 424 bcf of natural gas per year. China also built a 771 km oil pipeline running parallel with the gas pipeline to deliver 240 thousand barrels of crude oil per day. India tried in vain to revive the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline project in 2013.
Recently, Bangladesh took an initiative to import natural gas from Myanmar and build a power plant at Chittagong with the option of sharing electricity with Myanmar. The proposal was put forward by a high-powered delegation that visited Myanmar recently. It is reported that Myanmar responded positively to the proposal and decided to send a technical team to assess the viability of exporting gas from its Chin State, which is adjacent to Bangladesh.
Myanmar started to export natural gas to Thailand in 1999. Thailand decided to invest $3.3 billion in oil and natural gas development in Myanmar by 2020. Gas exports yielded a total of $3.5 billion for Myanmar during the 2012-13. The country's current natural gas output comes primarily from the offshore Yadana and Yetagun fields, but is likely to rise because of the political and economic reforms in Myanmar and the subsequent easing of sanctions by the US and the European countries. Myanmar is also keen to attract foreign investment and is issuing production-sharing contracts through direct negotiations. There is now good prospect of discoveries of new gas and oil fields in Myanmar. The country has proven natural gas reserves of 7.8 tcf.
The Bangladesh delegation also proposed to purchase 500 megawatt of hydropower from Chin or Rakhine provinces through erecting cross-border power transmission line and offered joint investment in developing hydropower projects. Myanmar has an enormous hydropower potential of up to 100,000 megawatts.
The initiative taken by the government to import natural gas and hydroelectricity from Myanmar is a very wise decision. The proposal has two major advantages: (i) a common border between the two countries requiring no approval from a third country to build pipelines or electric transmission lines and (ii) the close proximity of the gas fields and hydropower sites from Bangladesh. These factors will make the cross-boundary transmission of natural gas and electricity easier and more economic. Moreover, Myanmar will benefit from our experience in construction and operation of gas based and hydropower plants.
In view of the shortage of energy resources, one of our best options is to share the resources of the neighbouring countries. Bangladesh is now importing about 500 MW of electricity from India. This capacity may be increased further very soon. It has also taken initiative to import hydroelectricity from Bhutan through India.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Bangladesh and Myanmar had not been very good in the recent past. Following the settlement of the maritime boundary dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar, the prospect of cooperation between the two countries is now brighter. In our interest, we should now build a good neighbourly relationship with Myanmar and seriously cooperate not only in energy sector but also in all other sectors of trade and commerce.
The writer is a senior nuclear engineer.
The Daily Star, 15 February 2015