One thing that everyone in Pakistan realises is that: in order to bring investment into the country, it is imperative to offer security, especially if one is ready to work in one of the more volatile regions of the country. This is exactly what Prime Minister Imran Khan has suggested as means to spur greater investment in the country’s untapped energy sector, approving a 50,000-strong security force for potential fossil fuel explorers.
To further sweeten the deal, the PM has also approved a proposal from the Petroleum Division for a tectonic shift in the existing ‘approval regime’ in our exploration and development policy to an ‘information regime’. This way, companies will not have to wait for bureaucratic approvals to start work, but will only have to file regular updates on exploration to fulfil the government’s monitoring needs.
The ultimate aim is to spur exploration and extraction investment in some of the more high-risk, frontier regions of the country, especially in western Balochistan and even in some parts of the erstwhile Fata region.
This greater freedom to oil and gas companies in operations beyond discovery stage will be accompanied by levy, duty or customs duty exemptions for clearing vessels, drill ships and helicopters of those involved in offshore explorations.
Some may, however, point out that this move is another page that PM Imran has taken from the playbook of his much-maligned predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, who approved a similar force to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The country’s current oil and gas import bill is too hefty, coming in at around $20 billion per year and the only way to counteract that is by enhancing production. Even as we may suffer from climate change owing to our voracious consumption of fossil fuels, we do not yet have alternatives to wean ourselves off it completely.
The new policy has all the makings of spurring growth in the sector but the exact cost must also be carefully calculated — in terms of the working culture in the country, bare costs and the toll it can have on our environment.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2019.