Hasina wants US to quantify Bangladesh gas reserves

Vol 7, PW 13 (10 Sep 03) People & Policy

Bangladesh opposition leader and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina has softened her hardline stance against gas exports to India.

Hasina's about turn is not yet public but this report learns it emerged during a meeting on 1st September at her Sudan Sadan residence in Dhaka with the new US ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.

A source present quotes Hasina telling Thomas that her party is, "not opposed to gas exports on principle." He adds: "She told him that we must first establish how much gas we have and what will be the demand of our own people. If we have surplus for export, we don't have any objection."Surprisingly, Hasina urged Thomas to arrange for an "exhaustive" survey by the United States Geological Survey in Bangladesh so that the, "actual quantum of reserves, exact production potential and demand" could be known.

"We prefer to meet the demand of the nation first," she is reported to have told Thomas. "We have also proposed value addition." Hasina's request for a new survey by US geologists reflects her unease with a previous survey by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate claiming Bangladesh is sitting on a total of 20 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas reserves.

Talking to this report, Hasina denied that ambassador Thomas, "had put any pressure" on her to support gas exports and instead shifted blame to her rival in power prime minister Khaleda Zia. "Khaleda Zias government is playing around with the gas issue," she reportedly said.

"We need a conclusive survey to establish our reserves and once that proves we have sufficient reserves, there should be no problem for export. I've told the US ambassador that the US Geological Survey should conduct an authentic and comprehensive survey and take complete responsibility for the findings." Hasina stressed: "Our concern is to ensure the optimum use of our gas.

If that requires export, then we don't have any objection." Hasina's new support for gas exports contradicts recent threats from her Awami League party to organise mass protests if the government permits gas exports. Contacted by PETROWATCH, Thomas confirmed his meeting with Hasina but declined to comment further: "We discussed all issues and I think my views on gas have already been made public and I don't need to repeat those."