The cost of progress

The blatant answer is at the cost of innocent civilian lives

Editorial July 26, 2017

The tragic motif of successive Pakistani governments is that real change is not sought until disaster strikes. On June 25th, a tanker carrying 40,000ltr of fuel overturned on a main highway while travelling from Karachi to Lahore near the town of Ahmedpur East in Punjab. The overturned oil tanker blasted into a huge fireball in Bahawalpur, killing 219 people and injuring scores as crowds scavenging for fuel ignored warnings to stay clear. This national tragedy of epic proportions came hours before Pakistan was due to begin Eidul Fitr celebrations marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramazan. It led many to question why the preferred mode of oil transport in our country was tankers in the first place.

Crude oil is moving around the world, around our country, around pristine wilderness, around our cities and towns. It’s going to keep moving and will undoubtedly increase during a new energy boom, so why don’t we move it in a safe way? In the US, 70 per cent of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline. Twenty-three per cent of oil shipments are on tankers and barges over water. Trucking only accounts for four per cent of shipments and rail for a mere three per cent.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, projects to create pipelines were originally conceived in 2000 and route surveys were completed but could not take off because successive governments declined guarantees on the pattern of Parco’s white oil pipeline in view of oil sector deregulation. In light of the Bahawalpur accident, however, a few important oil infrastructure projects held up for 17 years have suddenly been expedited. One such project is a 475km pipeline project for transporting white oil products from Machike, near Multan, to Taru Jabba, near Peshawar.

Though the hastening of the construction of pipelines is crucial and laudable, at what cost do we finally see this arena worked on, rather than consistently neglected for years? The blatant answer is at the cost of innocent civilian lives.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2017.

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