Pakistan has over 50 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates. It's enough to energize Pakistani homes, businesses, power plants, CNG vehicles, fertilizer plants and factories for 25 years at a rate of 2 trillion cubic feet of consumption per year at half the currently agreed price of imported gas from Iran, an agreement the US strongly opposes. It will also save Pakistanis hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign exchange.
The relevant question here is whether America is willing to offer through its oil and gas companies the necessary investment and the advanced technology to quickly and profitably develop shale gas fields in Pakistan in exchange for abandoning the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline?
Shale gas revolution began a few years ago when an American named George P. Mitchell defied the skeptics and fought his opponents to extract natural gas from shale rock. The method he and his team used to release the trapped gas, called fracking, has paid off dramatically. In 2000, shale gas represented just 1 percent of American natural gas supplies. Today, it is over 30 percent and rising.
Up until 2009, the US was the largest importer of Qatari LNG. However, the discovery of development of shale gas has caused a glut in the US. The Qatari LNG imports are no longer needed and the gas prices have plummeted in the United States. Qatari oil minister was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that 60 percent of Qatari LNG exports “moved to the east” in 2009.
Increased production of gas from shale in the US has created a huge new supply, pushing down gas prices from $13/BTU (million British thermal units) four years ago to just $2/BTU today, even as the price of oil has more than doubled. By contrast, the Iran pipeline gas formula links the gas price to oil prices. It means that Pakistan will have to pay $12.30/BTU at oil price of $100/barrel, and a whopping $20/BTU for gas if oil returns to its 2008 peak of $150/barrel.
To encourage investment in developing domestic shale gas, Pakistan has approved a new exploration policy with improved incentives as compared with its 2009 policy, a petroleum ministry official said recently. Pakistan Petroleum is now inviting fresh bids to auction licenses to explore and develop several blocks in Dera Ismail Khan (KPK), Badin (Sind), Naushero Firoz (Sind) and Jungshahi (Sind), according to Oil Voice.
Under the new policy, exploration companies will be offered 40-50% higher prices for the extracted gas compared with the $4.26/Btu price announced in Exploration and Production Policy 2009. Companies which succeed in recovering gas from tight fields within two years will get 50% hike over the 2009 price and if it takes more time they will get only a 40% hike on the 2009 price. As an added incentive, the leases for the fields will now be for 40 years instead of 30 in the 2009 policy, the official said.
Even with the higher prices for the tight gas offered to the exploration companies, it is estimated that Pakistan will have to pay a maximum of $6.50/Btu for the gas compared with $12.30/Btu for gas imports, according to a report by Platts.
Pakistan should ask the Obama administration to help fund and develop shale gas in exchange for abandoning the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. It will be a historic win-win for both nations, as historic as the US aid to Pakistan for Green Revolution in 1960s. Pakistanis will get relief from the severe energy crisis which affects almost everyone in the country. The US energy companies will create thousands of American jobs and make a huge profit in the process with the potential bonus of largely neutralizing the strong anti-American sentiments in the country.