By Lubna Jerar Naqvi
Tue, 02, 23

Many parts of the country have been experiencing gas load-shedding for a long time. Gas shortage directly affects women and children – who make up a large part of the consumers. You! takes a look...


Like all winters, this season too, Pakistan is suffering from another severe shortage of gas - affecting hundreds of thousands of domestic consumers. A large portion of domestic consumers include women who have had to adjust not only their time but also their budgets to cope with the gas crisis.

Long hours of gas outages have forced people (who can afford) to find alternative ways to get fuel including wood, electric and biogas stoves, and liquid natural gas (LNG) cylinders.

The majority who cannot afford the added burden of alternatives have had to change other things in their lives. Some stay up late or wake up early to catch the gas supply to cook food to last the day.

Safia works as a domestic worker and cooks for a family. With the sporadic gas supply at her home and at work, she has to change her schedule. She gets gas after midnight at home for few hours during which she cooks meals to last her family for the whole day.

“After cooking till late into the night, I hardly get any sleep as I have to be at work around 7:30-8 am which means I leave home by 6 am. There is no transport so I have to walk half the way,” says Safia. She is racing against time to get three meals cooked before gas runs out. This means she is working continuously for at least four to five hours, which does not include planning meals with the family. “I am so stressed and tired, it is too much for me. But what can I do, if I don’t work, I won’t be able to feed my family,” she expresses. “Who will be responsible if I am unable to support my family? My husband and I don’t want our children to waste their lives and we both work hard to send our children to school and give them a quality life,” adds Safia.

Like Safia, stay-at-home mom, Shaheen Masood is also adjusting to the new way of life without gas. She has three school-going children and must get up early in the morning to make breakfast for her family, lunch for school and at least two more meals. “I usually have to get up early for my children but since the gas shortage, I am waking up two hours earlier as the gas comes around 5-6 am. I have to rush to cook for the whole day before gas goes. My husband and I have been talking about buying a cylinder or an electric stove but our limited budget does not allow us to do so,” elucidates Shaheen. “A lot of people are talking about the device that pulls gas from the pipeline, it gives constant supply but they say it is dangerous,” shares Shaheen. “This is an unethical practice but high inflation and government’s lack of interest to provide people with their basic needs like gas, water, and electricity have forced people to restore to such desperate measures. No one can watch their children starve,” she points out.

A sad state of affairs:

The year 2023 has seen the worst gas shortage across the country; however, many parts of the country have been experiencing gas load-shedding for a long time. No steps have been taken to find a way to increase gas reserves or develop alternative fuels.

It seems gas shortage is going to become the new normal for Pakistan and one of the main reasons for this is that every year Pakistan has an increase of 5 per cent in demand for gas which eats into the limited domestic reserves.

In December 2021, Pakistan’s natural gas consumption was reported at 4.333 billion cubic feet per day as compared to 3.973 Cub ft/Day bn for Dec 2020. (Courtesy: CEIC)

The gas shortage has been around for several years and the authorities should have done something to tackle this crisis when it was manageable. Even now the government, gas authorities and companies don’t seem too pushed to provide the consumer with cheap alternatives.

Pakistanis have been protesting against power outages for more than two decades and now we are also seeing protests against the gas shortage. Gas shortage directly affects more than half of the population – women and children – who make up a large part of the consumers.

There have been several protests against the power and gas outage. However, women in Lakki Marwat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2021 against gas outages is alarming mainly because it reveals the desperation of the consumer to see women from a conservative area forced to come out on the streets to protest. This should be a warning bell for the authorities.

If something is not done to provide alternatives to the gas shortage, such protests will probably increase and spread to other parts of the country.

Calling for alternate measures:

There’s a silver lining to this problem in the form of the discovery of 2.25 million standard cubic feet per day (mmscfd) gas reserves at Tolanj’s West-2 development, located in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX), Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) announced it had discovered this reserve in September 2022.

“This discovery will also help and contribute towards improving the energy security of the country from indigenous resources and add to the hydrocarbon reserves base of MOL, its joint venture partners and the country,” the gas companies said in a statement.

Finding more gas is not the only solution to solving the gas problem. There are other mechanics that need to ensure that these reserves are used in an efficient way.

One way as the government decided earlier in January 2023, is to change the gas pricing mechanism to help regulate the billing to the consumer. According to this, the existing slabs of residential gas consumers will increase from 6 to 9 – this will relieve or cross-subsidise the pressure on the lower-end consumer.

According to official sources the gas prices of consumers will have to be revised. Those consumers between the 2-3 slabs category, will increase by 25-30 per cent; the 3-4 slab consumers will increase by 100 per cent and consumers of 4-5 slab category by 300 per cent.

“However, the first three slab category consumers of 0.5hm3, 1hm3, and 2hm3 will face no increase in gas prices. The objective to increase the slabs is to accommodate the consumers who jump into other slabs by using a little more gas.” - Official Sources.

This is going to be a huge burden on the consumer and may lead to many domestic budgets crashing but there is no other way since the government has not increased gas prices since September 2020 putting both the gas companies at a loss of Rs677 billion.

This is a heavy loss to bear for the companies and should be taken care of. However, the government should also be conscious of not burdening the already suffering domestic consumers. They already have enough to struggle with when trying to cope with rising inflation which is inversely proportional to the rise in salaries. With decreasing purchasing power, more people will be pushed under the poverty line which will lead to a spiral of other social and economic problems. It is time to get a proper, long-lasting remedy for Pakistan’s gas problem.

* The indigenous gas production declines by over 6 per cent to 2006 million cubic feet per day (MMCFD) against consumption increased by over 5 per cent to reach 3884 MMCFD in the fiscal year 2020-21.

* The country has a huge network of 13, 768 km of transmission and 191,478 km of distribution gas pipelines providing natural gas to domestic, industrial, commercial and transport sectors.

* Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGCL) - the gas utility companies have expanded their transmission and distribution network to cater to the demand of their new consumers.

* Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGCL) have extended their transmission network by 37km and 17km during 2020-21.

* SNGPL has connected 371,618 news consumers in 2020-21 reaching 7.41 million total consumers on its network. SSGVL has added 95, 436 new connections making a total of 3.21 million consumers to its network.

* Overall, there are 10.62 million natural gas consumers in the country by the end of 2020-21.

* Power sector consumed 30 per cent followed by the domestic sector 20 per cent consumption.

* Province wise distribution during the year 2020-21: Punjab 52 per cent; Sindh 39 per cent; KP 7 per cent; Baluchistan 2 per cent.

* Pakistan has already consumed 66.6 per cent of its total gas reserves, leaving only 33.4 per cent untouched.

Courtesy: Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) report titled ‘State of Regulated Petroleum Industry for the fiscal year 2020-21’.