For decades, we have taken for granted a steady supply of natural gas. As population grew and new discoveries became few and far between, clarion call, especially from gas utilities, for conserving this non-renewable natural resource became more frequent and louder.
Consider this: While Pakistan produces 4 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, 3.2 bcfd is pumped into SSGC’s and SNGPL’s systems while the rest is directly supplied by the Exploration and Production (E&P) Companies to power and fertilizer sectors. Both the utilities in turn supply gas to consumers categorized as power (bulk), industries and captive power, domestic, commercial and CNG. Since the mid-2000s, demand has been outstripping supply and the gap has been widening. Supply-demand gap widens with the advent of winter season. Against the total demand of 1,350 mmcfd, total supply is only 1,150 mmcfd which leads to a low pressure situation. This sordid state of affairs is further compounded by the fact that incidence of Unaccounted for Gas (UFG) or gas losses, caused by line leakages, measurement and billing errors and theft, has increased drastically, making the two utilities vulnerable to shrinking bottomline.
Significantly, there is a huge variation in demand for natural gas during summer and winter seasons. Because the use of gas appliances increases substantially, the demand for gas in Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa increases four times more in winters than in summers. Balochistan consumes 25 to 35 mmcfd gas in summers. In winters, gas needs shoot up to 130 to 150 mmcfd. Similarly when cold wave sweeps through Karachi, gas demand in the country’s biggest gas load centre swells by 50 mmcfd.
SSGC attempts to alleviate the inconvenience caused to the domestic customers by slashing gas to fertilizer, industrial and CNG sector in order to address low pressure problems and improve line pack situation to ensure an uninterrupted supply.
Space heating and hot water requirements lead to a major increase in demand for gas during winters. Gas utilities attempt to meet this burgeoning demand by increasing gas pressure proportionately. Ideally this step should augment the supply situation considerably. However, age old distribution networks and a seemingly unstoppable population growth actually result in increasing leakages and even more gas shortages. Invariably during the winters, consumers can be heard complaining of low pressure and little or no gas.
Irrespective of the seasons, SSGC, being an increasingly customer-conscious utility, is mindful of the dire need to conserve natural gas. The Company is cognizant of the fact that unless it does not involve its biggest stakeholder i.e. the customers, in its elaborate energy conservation plans, the situation will not turn for the better. This explains why in the recent years, the Company has intensified its mass education and awareness campaigns related to natural gas conservation.
It would have been easy for the Company to run its conservation campaigns through its Communication Department by making pompous statements ‘instructing’ the customers to conserve natural gas. However, that would not have been a very pragmatic approach. SSGC’s media campaign, therefore, stresses on giving instant tips to the customer to ensure that they use gas not just sensibly but do it in such a way that they do not risk their lives in the process.
Through such campaigns, SSGC clearly sends multiple messages, simply because their outcomes are inter-related. Interestingly while the underlying motive is conservation, SSGC’s campaigns also expect its customers to be a little more proactive by reporting leakages and theft in their localities.
With the advent of winter season, use of gas appliances increases manifold. However, little negligence can prove to be extremely costly. On average, 20 deaths are reported every year especially in Balochistan where gas heaters are perhaps the only feasible space heating tool. SSGC’s campaigns stress on sensible use of gas geysers which consume 4 times more gas as compared to stoves. Moreover, markets are inundated with sub-standard local and international gas heaters which are said to burn only 60% gas while causing 40% to be leaked, besides putting lives to extreme risk. Hence the company’s stress on using PSQCA-approved appliances and fittings.
SSGC’s current Conservation Campaign, having started in late January 2012 is running side by side with another campaign called ‘Manage your gas bills in winter’ campaign or simply ‘Winter Campaign’ which runs from November to March every year. A carefully worked out print and electronic media plan ensures maximum coverage. Since SSGC’s franchise areas are Sindh and Balochistan, widely read and watched national and regional newspapers and TV channels are targeted. Timing is all important. For instance, running winter campaigns before the advent of say, winter season is important since in colder areas, chilly weather begins much earlier than in warmer regions. Our advertisements are further reinforced by distribution of communication material including fliers and posters to the customers visiting the Customer Facilitation Centres located across the length and breadth of Sindh and Balochistan.
A wise man once said, ‘We never know the worth of water till the well is dry,’ When the gap in demand and supply had not widened, we consumed gas almost with a reckless abandon. In a scenario characterized by depleting reserves, SSGC’s message could not be clearer, ‘If we don’t conserve on gas, we will actually run out of it.’ It is a horrifying prospect but one that we the stakeholders can reverse with a practical and sensible approach.
The writer works for the Corporate Communication Department SSGC