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The Frankenstein of the 2011 Petroleum Policy and Energy Security
Barrister Aemen Zulfikar Maluka
The year is 2011 and we are at the crossroads of driving yet another nail in the coffin of our already decadent hydrocarbon policy and infrastructure. Yet what we have in our hands is the proverbial Frankenstein, a creation of the literary genius, Mary Shelly. Frankenstein, despite being stitched together with the finest and most beautiful body parts, a scientist could gather, was an ugly abomination- a reminder that all things sweet and convincing cannot account for the sheer ugliness that arises from an entity created without a purpose and a foundation. Like most of the youngsters of my generation, the author of this article, grew up with the knowledge that energy security should be a focal target of a country’s foreign and investment policy. The Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy 2011, hence remains for the author as empty and incoherent as its predecessors.
When the 1991 Petroleum Policy was announced in the Land of the Green, our leaders and technocrats promised us the moon, the stars and Energy Security. Plans were drawn since then, the consecutive policies seemed promising and it seemed that even the daunting guns of the local warlords would not stop us from achieving the holy grail of energy security. Almost a decade later as we await the blessed moment when the government decides to breath life in the carcass of the Frankenstein of Pakistani Petroleum Policy 2011, one cannot but wonder with gloom-does it even matter?
At the point when we choose to delve into exploring the meaning and metaphor of Energy Security, I find it useful to refer to Andrew Bely’s classification of the international theories where the theorist has sought to base the framework of understanding Energy Security on a term which he borrows from modern political terminology and calls it the “New Economics of Energy” or the “New Political Economy of Energy”. In the context of Pakistan the latter approach spells out a clear caution. Given that the notion of “security” in its most raw context, it is a response mechanism for an obvious, concrete threat or a strategic discourse for the avoidance of potential danger or threat. In the context of energy, one view remains that it can be viewed as a series of reactions in line with an underlying policy objective regardless of current political conditions. If one were to follow this view then our reactions to the changing dynamics of the political energy landscape are anything but rational or logical. Our petroleum policy makers need to be mindful that Pakistan are a region where certain security concerns may be particularly concentrated to certain geographical boundaries particularly where matters of energy dependency are concerned.
From the point of view of international relations, the essentially anarchic nature of the modern world order manifests itself in the matters of interstate disputes of natural resources displaying the struggle to exploit the presence or the lack thereof of a particular strategic natural resource. This factum combined with the historical background of a particular region might be the reason for a long standing continuum of energy related geopolitical strategies despite the change of political regimes over a large period of time. This observation of the author is in line with a word of caution to be thrown at the much-awaited Iran –Pakistan gas pipeline that will spell a change in our current regional security complex structures and our current interdependencies. After all, the energy dynamics of oil and gas differ widely, in terms of their energy dependencies based on factors like the regional trade balances, domestic energy resources and available energy alternatives. Sadly neither the draft third party access regulations to the pipeline infrastructure nor this amazing “Frankenstein” reflect even the subtlest sensitivity to this evolving regional complex.
This of course brings us to back to the Frankenstein, which has been created by our technocrats in the name of incentivizing exploration and production at a point when foreign companies are shying away from investing in Pakistan. At a precursory glance the Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy 2011 strikes us in its preamble as yet another ambitious initiative with proposals aimed at allowing locally operating exploration and production companies to construct and operate pipelines for local requirements as well as for exports for their share of petroleum and allowing priority access based on a certain firm utilization plans. On a more profound reading however, this policy shows no promise, pertaining to the quick and effective expedition of ministerial approvals and removal of the frustrating red tape, which every foreign company faces at its very entry into the Pakistan jurisdiction. One can also discern promises of acceleration of exploration and production with a view of achieving self-sufficiency. But these can only be sugarcoated promises, as our infrastructure is lying idle for almost a year now. Little has been said about how our country intends to offer globally competitive incentives at a point where the local government can embezzle our foreign investors and have their assets expropriated at the whim of the locally elected dacoits and resident warlords.
Ironically enough after a decade of going blind to the so called ‘paradigm shift’ in the global energy scenario we see a sudden acknowledgement in the 2011 policy of our technocrats and democratically elected robbers that there is a need to look at the market conditions for energy investment in view of increasing international energy prices. Again we see promises of developing the local market through international competitive bidding. It seems that our technocrats have failed to realize that our infrastructure not only lacks proper management but also is riddled by corruption and red tape.
Despite the realization of our benevolent rulers that the world energy scenario has changed, the royalty rate remains at the same paltry 12.5%, and the income tax percentage has barely changed since 2001, hence reminding us that not only do we have a badly managed hydrocarbon infrastructure but also no understanding whatsoever of effective petroleum economics which currently dictate the world order at time when there is a relentless thirst for fuel.
Of course the final stitch in the body of this Frankenstein is a suggestion for marine research and coastal area development within the policy confirming that the same is, in fact, yet another wastefully hasted drafted piece of document. This is evident from the fact that in the past even international oil and gas giants like Petro bras have abandoned the idea of developing our offshore reserves based on our failure to respond to its immense legal potential. We are a country whose strategic hydrocarbon and geological data is already in unsafe foreign hands due to the sheer greed of our technocrats and politicians. Now that we have sold this data for peanuts, the 2011 policy is a far cry from achieving anything better for our treasury, but perhaps more peanuts.
Thus to conclude, the monster we have created from the remains of our previous series of ineffective agendas, namely the Petroleum Exploration and Production Policy 2011, stitched together with some of the most sound promises of energy security, is unlikely to survive the next five years. One can only wishfully hope that Hydrocarbon sector investment will pick up in the next 11 months but knowing our history of mismanagement, it is likely that our leadership and bureaucracy will sell our oil and our integrity for peanuts once again. The foreign investors do not really need a promise for a bonanza discovery but they need to know if our country will still exist politically in the next 5 years and whether our next elected band of thieves will be wiser to the needs of the petroleum industry. At a time when Pakistan needs to re-evaluate its friendships and alliances based on the changing needs of the new regional strategic geopolitical location landscape, our Policy makers seem to be lacking the acumen to make the best out of the current scenario for our already standstill economy.
Yet as starry eyes pupils of justice and legal policy, it is people like the author themselves, who continue to hope that one day, in this Land of the Pure, the Green and the Minerals, we will realize our actual potential for self-sufficiency and not sell our last shards of integrity and the hope for energy security to fuel the ever hungry needs of the foreign states. Remembering Daniel Yergin’s famous utterance about the modern warfare being a quest for “the prize” it is better for us to realize how we can secure our blessings of hydrocarbon reserves before like our ill-fated Iraqi friends, our prized hydrocarbon blessings are stolen and then sold on the back street for peanuts.