Nearly an age (12 years) after the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS/Tribunal) in Berlin delivered its judgement in the Bangladesh/Myanmar maritime delimitation case, we are finally witnessing some positive movements by stakeholders to fuel hopes that Bangladesh may finally be in a position to reap the benefits accruing to it from that landmark verdict.

ITLOS delimited the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in three maritime zones: the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf. The verdict allocated approximately 111,631 square kilometres of sea area to Bangladesh. Myanmar's allocation was even bigger in fact, and barring the odd display of jingoism that relied on distortions of the verdict's provisions by either side, there was a real sense that both sides had come away from that courtroom with the potential to do very well out of the judgement. Accordingly, over the next few years, we remained expectant. Almost any day, we expected to hear the big announcement that Dhaka had struck gold, or at least 'liquid gold,' (oil) in its new territorial waters.

But of course nothing in life is ever that simple and straightforward. As the months turned to years, and the excuses seemed to embed themselves in our surroundings, all the initial excitement and enthusiasm slowly drained away. Meanwhile the advent of LNG, or RLNG, as a clean and efficient primary fuel that could make use of our existing delivery network for natural gas, represented an opportunity not to be missed. Imported via massive terminals that parked themselves like barges along the coastline, these Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRUs) were capable of feeding the fuel into the pipeline almost seamlessly.

Yet these two years weathering the price volatility that is a feature of the international energy market did much to remind the country of the constant insecurity that accompanies import-dependency in energy. At a time when the government has been struggling to arrest the decline in its foreign exchange reserves, with a large chunk of it blown on the LNG spot market, this may have acted as a much-needed jolt to any notion of succumbing to import dependency to meet a large part of our primary fuels requirement.

Weaning the country off this dependence was the primary thrust behind Petrobangla announcing a new international bid round for oil and natural gas exploration in 24 blocks located in the Bay of Bengal, armed with a new Production Sharing Contract (PSC), by the international consulting firm, Wood Mackenzie that the international oil companies, including the US oil majors, should find more attractive. It is the first bid round in eight years to offer offshore acreage, comprising fifteen deep water and nine shallow water blocks. Floated in March, the IOCs have until September to submit their bids. Even before the tender was announced, it was attracting healthy attention from pedigreed firms like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Nasrul Hamid, Minister of State for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, has revealed 7 firms have already bought the bid documents. In a related development, TGS - a leading provider of energy data and analytics -in partnership with SLB, that signed the contract with Petrobangla to acquire 2D multi-client seismic survey that has widespread coverage across offshore Bangladesh, encompassing more than 75,000 square kilometers across all 24 blocks on offer in the bid round, acquisition of this 12,636-line kilometer 2D seismic survey was completed in April 2023; the final PSTM-processed (Pre-Stack Time Migration) products are available now, and the final PSDM (Pre-Stack Depth Migration) products are also available in since this month. The seismic data has some very encouraging findings to report (see story). Compared to when firms like Daewoo and ConocoPhillips were abandoning their projects in the Bay of Bengal and leaving halfway, things are certainly looking up at present.

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