Bangladesh: Uncertainty over exploration in Bay
The prospect of oil and gas exploration in the deep sea of Bay of Bengal is now uncertain, as the Energy Division has failed to take a final decision on the issue for several years. Sources said the Energy Division has cancelled the previous decision to conduct a two-dimensional non-exclusive multi-client survey in the Bay of Bengal. The division took three years, but made no final decision. Policymakers have been thinking about buying an expensive survey vessel over the last few months. But the Energy Division has been divided into two groups on whether it will be new or old.
“The total scenario is frustrating as the government has failed to start any exploration in the Bay of Bengal. Yet, Myanmar hit gas reserves more than 10 years ago along the Bangladesh sea border in Rakhine,” said an Energy Division official.
Bangladesh has 11 blocks for oil and gas exploration in the deep sea along the Myanmar and India border. Among these, six prospective blocks are on the border with Myanmar. Of the six blocks, only one was awarded to the Korean company Daewoo Corporation. This international oil company (IOC) was also involved at the Shwe gas field in Rakhine state.
“The government is preparing to import LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Qatar and other countries next April. Yet, they haven’t made any concrete decision to explore oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal,” said Dr M Tamim, an energy expert and professor at Bangladesh Engineering University.
“A lack of decision will bring nothing but economic loss for Bangladesh, as Myanmar and India got gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal a few years ago. But we’re still sleeping and not taking any proper decision,” he fumed. The Petrobangla
official said that though Bangladesh won the legal battle with Myanmar over the maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal—the international tribunal verdict went in favour of the country in March, 2012—the country failed to get proper data to obtain the hydrocarbon reserve. But Myanmar hit a big gas reserve in 2004 in Rakhine state, which is very close to the Bangladesh sea border.
Sources said the cabinet committee headed by the law minister failed to select a qualified company to conduct a two-dimensional non-exclusive multi-client survey in the Bay of Bengal.
An Energy Division official said they did not get any report from the committee with a comment on choosing the company.
Officials alleged that vested interests are pushing a bid by Spec Partners, a survey company that was deemed unfit for the job. So strong is this lobby that the government was pushed to form a cabinet committee, even though the selection committee had chosen TGS-Schlumberger JV.
Sarwar Jahan, the director (PSC) of Petrobangla, refused to comment on the issue. “But I can tell you that the government is serious about exploring the Bay of Bengal,” he claimed.
In 2014, the state-owned energy company Petrobangla started the process of appointing an international surveyor. It received all bid documents by February 8, 2015. After verification, Petrobangla recommended awarding the survey to TGS-Schlumberger JV. But the Prime Minister’s Office did not approve the file and it returned to the same desk. In this round, Spec Partners was not recommended, as it failed to fulfil the criteria for the survey.
On December 10, 2015, Petrobangla again floated an international tender for the survey. This time, the government got proposals from five bidders—TGS-Schlumberger JV, Marine Arctic Geological Expedition Joint Stock Company, BGP Inc.–China National Petroleum Corp., DMNG Company, and Spec Partners.
After evaluation by the Petrobangla committee, on the basis of the survey volume, acquisition and processing parameters, specifications of vessels, profit share to Petrobangla, and training to Petrobangla, the TGS-Schlumberger JV again emerged as the frontrunner with a score of 94.04 out of 100.
Again, Petrobangla recommended TGS-Schlumberger JV for the survey work, quashing Spec Partners’ bid, as the firm had failed to furnish valid documents.
The evaluation committee, in its summary report prepared for the cabinet committee, noted that from 2009 to 2014, Spec Partners had carried out 30,212 line km (LKM) 2D multi-client seismic surveys in only three countries. The other bidders had much more experience.
In this long process, the Petrobangla did not get any response from the law ministry over procurement of survey vessel. Meanwhile, the Energy Division took 23 proposals from different companies to supply a survey vessel, which could cost Tk. 800 crore, on August 16, 2017.