One can only welcome the report on a potential goldmine in the form of huge amounts of gas hydrates and several hundred species of seaweed awaiting Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, once we acquire the commercial capability to exploit them, that we were presented this week.

The country has found the presence of around 17 to 103 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of ice-like hydrate deposits containing huge amounts of methane, beneath Bangladeshi waters in the Bay, the foreign ministry revealed on Wednesday. Gas hydrates are a crystalline solid formed of water and gas. It looks and acts much like ice, but it contains huge amounts of methane. In 2018-21, the Maritime Affairs Unit of the foreign ministry in association with the UK analysed two surveys conducted along 6,500 line-kilometres of the sea during 2007-10.

A group led by the Maritime Affairs Unit was formed in 2018 to analyse the data obtained from the surveys, conducted earlier in the Bay of Bengal to determine gas hydrate reserves in the waters of Bangladesh. A French company conducted seismic and bathymetric surveys on the 3,500 line kilometres in 2007-08, and a Dutch company conducted a survey along 3,000 line kilometres within the continental shelf of 350 nautical miles and collected scientific and technical data on the marine resources.

Based on the survey data, the Maritime Affairs Unit with the assistance of the Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company (BAPEX), Petrobangla and the National Oceanography Centre of the UK completed the study in the last three years. It indicates presence of 0.11tcf to 0.63tcf of gas hydrate, which is worth 17-103tcf of natural gas, within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Bangladesh.

A full seismic survey in the entire EEZ of Bangladesh and continental shelf can provide a true picture of the reserve of gas hydrate, and more importantly, how much of it would be commercially viable to extract. The technology needed to exploit gas hydrate is not available yet, anywhere in the world. At the press briefing, we also learned of another survey conducted by a Dutch researcher in 2020-21 that found presence of 498 species of oyster, 347 species of sea fish, 220 species of seaweed, 61 species of sea-grass, 52 species of prawn, six species of crab and five species of lobster.

Some of the seaweeds found in the sea have huge commercial potentials in the making of fish feed, animal feed, food additives and cosmetics. However Bangladesh has still not started a multidimensional and multiclient seismic survey required to gather primary data on potential hydrocarbon resources in the Bay though such an initiative has been talked about for years now. State-run oil and gas company Petrobangla planned to conduct a multidimensional seismic survey in the Bay of Bengal in 2014.

The multi-client survey work is very important to attract international oil companies (IOCs) in hydrocarbons exploration. Bangladesh awarded the contract to TGS-SCHLUMBERGER JV, a European joint venture energy company, in April 2019. The company is responsible to conduct the survey at its own cost to collect the seismic data from the country's maritime areas and share its data with Petrobangla. But they could not start the job because of the Covid-19 situation, according to state hydrocarbon agency.

Energy experts have opined that there is a huge prospect of hydrocarbon exploration in the deep and high pressure zones in the country's waters. And finding them is crucial to our future energy security- it is well known that our present, onshore reserves are fast depleting, and the government has already seen the dangers of buying into the volatile international market for energy, in the form of its LNG imports that are getting more and more expensive. That is why the multi-client survey must be prioritised, as the world looks to get past Covid-19 in 2022. We welcome this week's findings, but they cannot be a substitute for the survey - we must look to have it done this year.

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