Freezing winter ahead


For many in the snow-bound areas as well as those living under the open sky in the plain areas of the country, a cold and harsh winter has already set in. As the monsoon rains and unprecedented flooding have devastated routine life, the cold snap is surely going to pile more miseries on the poor and vulnerable communities, who are reeling under the effects of the watery disaster, and the likely suspension of natural gas supply to both domestic and commercial consumers is feared to further aggravate the situation.
With the advent of winter, the natural gas shortage, which has become a permanent feature of the country’s economic outlook in recent years, seems to have worsened as the natural gas distribution companies, including the state-owned entities Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC) and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Company (SNGPL) have warned that this time around the gas burden would be shifted to commercial consumers. The decision has been obviously taken with a view to prioritize domestic consumers’ needs, with little concern for the commercial production of consumer goods.
The country’s apex trade body, the Pakistan Stock Exchange, and industrial consumers have resented the decision, urging the authorities to immediately open a window for industries to bear the burden of gas suspension, which they are compelled to blame on the government’s criminal negligence and incompetence.
A statement issued to the effect by the SSGC paints a gloomy picture on gas availability, particularly for commercial users, as the company has signaled that domestic consumers were the top priority in the winter.
As the gas suspension sounds like a death knell for the consumers, the SNGPL has termed it detrimental and urged the industries to switch over to the Regasified Liquefied Natural Gas (RLNG) and stop their reliance over the country’s natural gas. It has also warned of action against those consumers who might resist the shift to RLNG.
Echoing their concerns and views, industrialists have underlined that the strategy being pursued by gas distribution companies could trigger more uncertainty. The industries have yet to emerge from the after effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing climate and energy crises, and the new measures would disproportionately hit those industries which are export-oriented industries and mostly located in the Punjab province and the southern port city of Karachi.
To further exacerbate the energy crisis, the past governments have failed to issue enough licences to commercial importers for LNG import to bridge the supply gap and overcome the crisis to a certain degree, but management issues spoiled the opportunity for a smooth gas supply to the industries.
The energy crisis is the largest single drain on Pakistan’s economy, which has become a major threat to impeding the growth rate. The gas rationing has affected small manufacturers and service delivery in particular. The scarce resources are needed to be redirected and proportionately distributed among more productive sectors and domestic consumers to turn aside the crisis.