Lopsided Energy Policies Of Pakistan – OpEd


Since independence Pakistan has remained an energy deficient country. After the nationalization of industries by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in early seventies, the entire energy sector came in the control of the state. Despite the successive governments following deregulation, liberalization and privatization policy, energy business is mostly controlled by the state-owned enterprises.

A significantly large part of energy companies be in exploration & production, oil and gas distribution and even refining remains in the public sector. The leading names include Oil & Gas Development Company (OGDC), Pakistan Petroleum (PPL), Pakistan State Oil Company (PSO), Sui twins, and Pak Arab Refinery and pipeline management.

Exploration & Production

The depleting production of crude and gas in the country is the most glaring example of absurd policies being followed by the state. Every year the state-owned companies pay lofty dividends, despite lavish spending. However, if one looks at their drilling record/ production numbers are disappointing. One completely fails to understand that Pakistan has an enviable success record but the number of wells drilled in a year is disappointing.

Going a step further, the number of rigs available in the country are also disappointing. One also fails to understand why can’t rigs be acquired on rent/ production participation basis? 


For decadess oil refineries have worked under state control. Over the years government failed in undertaking BMR and/ or establishing new refineries. According to the data available the country has more than 20 million tons oil refining capacity, but huge quantities of POL products are being imported. It is on record that one of the refineries is working at around 30% capacity utilization. 

For ages these refineries were not able to produce lead-free petrol. To the utmost disappointment these are still producing high sulfur furnace oil (HSFO). 

Use of furnace oil in power generation

Being the signatories of various charters controlling environment, Pakistan stopped power plants from using HSFO. On one hand power plants are being run on imported gas, causing depletion of foreign exchange reserves, and on the other hand HSFO tanks started overflowing, leaving no alternative for the refineries but to suspend production. Lately, the government allowed export of HSFO, which has limited demand in the global markets.

Oil marketing companies

At present more than two dozen oil marketing companies are operating in the country. However, bulk of the market share is controlled by 6 companies; PSO has the largest market share. The entity should be enjoying excellent synergy, but the ground realities indicate that despite paying huge dividends and taxes, its share in the ‘circular debt’ is also the highest.

One also fails to understand why it has been given the mandate to import LNG; it is an oil marketing company not a gas distribution company. Some of the sector experts say the time has come to de-bundle PSO and also privatize the de-bundled smaller entities.    

Gas marketing companies

Sui twins, Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and Sui Northern Gas Pipeline (SNGPL) are the two gas marketing companies operating in Pakistan. At present both the companies suffer from the worst financial crunch. The financial crunch is the outcome of various factors that include: 1) use of these companies by the successive governments to attain political mileage, 2) excessive theft and 3) colossal circular debt. The leakages, precisely theft, are due to unplanned approval of connections and depletion of transmission and distribution networks.   

Oil storage facilities

Over the years, experts have been saying that the country has nominal oil storage facilities. Some of the experts say that the country has 15 days storage facilities, but others say the facilities are barely enough to store seven days requirement. According to an analyst, even the top six largest OMCs don’t have the required storage facilities. 

Analysts are of the consensus that the Government has to ensure construction of POL facilities at ports as well as some central points for onward distribution throughout the country. 

They suggest private sector should establish oil storage facilities and rent these out to oil marketing companies. These facilities should also be given the status of ‘Bonded Warehouses’.

Analysts are of the view that often small and uneconomic lots are imported, which increase transportation and handling costs. Since the specifications are universal, imported quantities of various clients could be consolidated and also stored in the same tanks.  

Shabbir H. Kazmi

Shabbir H. Kazmi is an economic analyst from Pakistan. He has been writing for local and foreign publications for about quarter of a century. He maintains the blog ‘Geo Politics in South Asia and MENA’. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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