The triumph over the maritime area in the Bay of Bengal not only brought about an expanded area of exclusive economic zone but also opened a door of unprecedented opportunities in the blue economy of Bangladesh.
After settling the maritime disputes with Myanmar and India in 2012 and 2014 respectively, Bangladesh achieved 118,113 sq km maritime area. Now the country has an unmitigated prospect over this vast area regarding any economic activities.
The ocean is a unique reservoir of resources and various components of limitless possibilities. Natural resources like gas and oil, are the most coveted ones among them. With the current skyward industrialisation, economic growth and outspread usage of technology, countries are dependent on these energy resources more than ever. Therefore, the Bay of Bengal has unlocked new scopes for Bangladesh in terms of valuable resources that might be stored right under the achieved vicinity.
Even so, regardless of achieving such a tremendous exclusive economic zone, Bangladesh is lagging behind in gaining the mileage over blue growth. Blue growth is the long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole.
This growth includes aquaculture, coastal tourism, marine biotechnology, ocean energy and sea-bed mining. In the current scenario, proper natural resource management is necessary for any kind of economic development.
The world has witnessed numerous natural resources in the African region. However, the poor management by the government could not earn long-term economic development and are still surrounded by poverty. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries, as well as our neighboring countries, are doing well in this sector and making impressive economic development.
Bangladesh has an inadequate amount of natural resources and most of its extractions are from the on-shore sources. In Bangladesh, 63 percent demand of the energy is met by natural gas, although the country itself doesn't have any substantial reserve of gas. On that account, for the energy security of Bangladesh, the Bay of Bengal can play a vital part.
In the Bay of Bengal, there are three large basins: the Krishna Godavari basin of India, the Rakhine basin of Myanmar, and the Bengal basin of Bangladesh. Geologists consider that the Bengal basin is one of the resourceful basins in the Bay of Bengal after the Krishna Godavari basin of India.
After independence, Bangladesh did not explore the Bay of Bengal very much. Till today, 20 exploratory wells were drilled here, resulting in only two gas discoveries, i.e. the Sangu and the Kutubdia, with small reserves.
The Sangu reserves of 0.8 Tcf have already depleted, whereas the Kutubdia reserves 0.04 Tcf are yet to be extracted. Less than one percent of the gas supply was coming from those gas fields. As those two gas fields had very low amounts of reserves, hence, they are not in production in recent times.
Myanmar has recently discovered around 4 TCF (Trillion Cubic Feet) extractable gas at Mahar #1 well located in the Rakhine basin in 2020. Earlier in February 2016, gas was being discovered in Thalin-1A well in Myanmar's block AD-7 adjacent to Bangladesh's deep-sea block DS-12.
Geologists confer that Bangladesh's DS12 and Myanmar's AD-7 are located in the same geological structure in the Bay-of-Bengal. The recent discovery of huge gas reserves by India and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal near Bangladesh's economic zone is an obvious reason to go for robust deep-sea exploration now.
Recently, government organisation Petrobangla divided the Bay of Bengal into twenty six blocks. Eleven of them are shallow offshore blocks and the remaining fifteen are deep offshore blocks. The government initiated 2D and 3D seismic survey projects in order to know the volume of natural resources under the Bay of Bengal.
Petrobangla awarded two of its off-shore blocks to ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) and OIL (Oil India Company) in February 2014 through the process of bidding. Three other offshore blocks have been designated to Santos-Kris Energy (UK) and Posco Daewoo Corporation (South Korea). But any remarkable source of oil or gas is yet to be found.
In 2019 the Government of Bangladesh approved the draft of "Bangladesh Maritime Zones Act-2019". This act looks very much promising for natural resource management. However, implementing the act will be challenging for the government.
It would be a highly commendable initiative if the government assigned BAPEX (Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration & Production Company Limited) as the only company to extract natural resources from the Bay of Bengal. However, BAPEX has no major drilling experience in offshore gas and oil fields.
Increasing the infrastructural capacity of BAPEX and creating trained manpower in this sector will be a whole new challenge for the Government of Bangladesh. Therefore, the government needs to increase budget allocation for the modernisation of this company and set up a new institution to increase manpower.
Above all, the statistics of importing oil and LNG are giving off a premonition on our dependence on imported energy. According to Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), only in the financial year of 2019- 20, Bangladesh imported oil from the international market worth Tk21,587.49 crore. Although the country has a significant reserve of coal but it is quite not used here.
Moreover, taking climate change into account, Bangladesh does not have commensurable equipment or technology to prevent the pollution from coal mining. Bangladesh is committed towards climate agendas of Sustainable Development Goals. Specially, SDG-14 is absolutely related to the blue growth and blue economy.
Now, the government must decide how they will extract and utilise these natural resources from the Bay of Bengal. Natural resources like oil and gas are exhaustible, and partly renewable but it takes a hefty amount of time to restore. Therefore, utilising resources in the proper way is very much essential for our energy security.
With the help of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh can also direct its focus on renewable energy e.g. hydroelectricity, windmill and solar energy. Countries like Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, UK, China, and Germany and even our neighbouring country India installed windmills to mitigate the pressure on the non-renewable energy sources.
While achieving sustainable development, the concept of Inter and Intra generational equity term holds the highest priority. So, we must ensure energy security for the current and future generations. In the same way, the Bay of Bengal, with its huge potential, can accommodate resource supplies to the present and future generations of Bangladesh.
Nahin Mahfuz Seam is a student of Environmental and Resource Economics Programme, Dhaka School of Economics (DScE).
Rayhana Ahmed Ami is a student of Economics at Bangladesh University of Professional (BUP).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.