Reference ID: 09DHAKA741
Created: 2009-07-29 09:09
Released: 2010-12-21 21:09
Origin: Embassy Dhaka
PP RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW
DE RUEHKA #0741/01 2100900
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 290900Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9231
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON PRIORITY 2900
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 000741
DEPT FOR SCA/INSB AND EEB/ESC
COMMERCE FOR TRADE ADVOCACY CENTER BRIAN WILLIAMS
COMMERCE ALSO FOR ITA DIANA FONOVICH
TREASURY FOR YEE WONG
EO 12958 DECL: 07/26/2019
TAGS ENRG, PREL, PGOV, ECON, PINR, EINV, BG
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR URGES PRIME MINISTER,S ADVISER TO
ACCELERATE ENERGY SECTOR DEVELOPMENT
REF: A. 08DHAKA1041 B. 08DHAKA517
Classified By: Ambassador James F. Moriarty. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
(U) This is an action request, please see para 8 below.
1. (C) The Ambassador recently urged the Prime Minister,s Energy Adviser, Tawfiq Elahi Chowdhury, to resolve several pressing issues, including awarding offshore blocks for natural gas exploration and authorizing coal mining. The Adviser indicated that Conoco Phillips would likely be awarded two of the uncontested blocks and that Chevron would likely soon receive permission to go ahead with the first of three compressors necessary to improve flow in Bangladesh,s main gas pipeline. With respect to coal, Chowdhury requested technical assistance for evaluating the technical and environmental problems associated with different types of mining. The Ambassador and the Energy Advisor agreed that regional cooperation among the South Asian countries would benefit all concerned.
Blocking it off for gas exploration
2. (C) The Adviser told the Ambassador during a meeting on July 23 that Conoco Phillips would likely be awarded the two uncontested offshore blocks for natural gas exploration. (Note: Later that day, the Cabinet referred the matter to the Foreign Ministry for further scrutiny. At issue is the ongoing dispute between Bangladesh, India and Burma over the demarcation of territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal. Conoco Phillips,s initial bid for exploration in eight blocks was approved, but the award has been stalled for almost a year. The company wants to eventually receive all the offshore blocks for which it was the winning bidder but is willing to start out in the blocks where there was no territorial dispute. End note.)
Increasing the flow
3.(SBU) The Ambassador noted that one way for the GOB to begin to address Bangladesh,s energy shortage would be to add compressors to the country,s main gas pipeline; compressors would greatly increase the flow of gas from Chevron,s Bibiyana gas field. Chowdhury replied that the GOB was on the verge of giving Chevron permission to go ahead with one of the three compressors necessary. (Note: Tenders are being invited for the other two compressors, though Chevron states that it is not interested in bidding on the remaining two compresssors. End note.) Chevron would fund the purchase itself and then be reimbursed by Petrobangla (the owner of the pipeline) out of profits from the increased flow of gas. Chowdhury warned, however, that it would take time for the GOB to obtain the other two compressors. Prices had risen rapidly, and the GOB would have to obtain additional assistance from the Asian Development Bank. Moreover, compressors of this magnitude were built to order and would take some time to manufacture after the financing was arranged.
Coal as a potential solution
4. (C) The Ambassador noted that Bangladesh,s coal reserves were vast and of the highest quality; coal appeared to provide a potential way to at least partly resolve the country,s energy crisis. Chowdhury replied that because of global concerns about green house gas emissions and air pollution, multilateral financial institutions had become reluctant to finance coal mining projects. He pointed out however, that the international community should focus on clean coal technology. He asked for technical assistance from the U.S. to determine what type of mining would work best in Bangladesh and how the environmental impact could be mitigated; he added that the GOB would also stress the need
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to rehabilitate the mined areas. The Ambassador promised that the USG would look for ways to help the GOB and added that open pit mining seemed the best way forward, if the rehabilitation of lands could be done properly.
5. (C) The Adviser remarked that the proposed coal mine in Phulbari was politically sensitive, in light of the impoverished,historically oppressed tribal community residing on the land. (Comment: Just as important, the Awami League vigorously opposed the project when it was in opposition. End comment.) He said the government would seek to ensure the rights of the local community and build support for the project through the parliamentary process. (Note: Asia Energy, the company behind the Phulbari project, has sixty percent U.S. investment. Asia Energy officials told the Ambassador on July 29 they were cautiously optimistic that the project would win government approval in the coming months. End note.)
Regional cooperation afoot?
6. (C) The Ambassador and the Adviser also discussed USAID,s South Asian Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/E) (which promotes energy security in the region through cross border energy trade, energy markets and access to clean energy). The Ambassador welcomed continued cooperation such as the visit of a high level GOB delegation to India in mid July. He noted that the USG had always believed that the countries of South Asia should address their energy problems together and that opponents of transit and regional cooperation in Bangladesh had no strong arguments. Integration onto a regional energy grid would be more politically palatable than simply trying to resolve differences bilaterally, he pointed out. The Adviser concurred: The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)asserted that the Awami League was selling out the country,s sovereignty whenever the government undertook any projects bilaterally with India.
7. (C) Despite its enormous potential, Bangladesh still faces daunting challenges as it attempts to resolve its energy crisis. The GOB has focused on the energy sector as a core component of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,s agenda. The appointment of Chowdhury, a seasoned bureaucrat with the ear of the Prime Minister, underscores the emphasis the GOB has placed on the energy issue. In the absence of a Minister for Energy, Chowdhury is the lead official on energy matters. Harnessing Bangladesh,s natural gas reserves and vast quantities of coal in the Phulbari region, could improve the lives of 150 million Bangladeshis. U.S. energy sector cooperation also offers the prospect of commercial benefit.
8. (U) Embassy Dhaka requests Washington agencies, help in responding to the GOB,s request for technical assistance in determining what type of coal mining would be appropriate and also in mitigating the environmental impact of open pit and other forms of mining. On that score, Chowdhury indicated that U.S. companies had provided invaluable advice in the past; he was looking to see whether the USG could provide names of companies/individual consultants who could provide objective, reliable advice in an area where the GOB lacked expertise. MORIARTY