Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. Due to a variety of factors there is a major gulf between Pakistan’s energy potential and its ability to achieve that potential. And that is clearly illustrated in the country’s natural gas sector.
While Pakistan’s conventional natural gas reserves – 24 trillion cubic feet – are declining, the country is sitting on an estimated 105 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. For now, there are too many obstacles to expect much development in Pakistan’s unconventional sector, but there are still opportunities for gas drillers in the country.
One of the largest gas producers is OMV (VIE: OMV). And OMV just announced a major new natural gas discovery on October 12 from its Latif South-1 well, located in the Latif block of Sindh Province. The test well posted some promising figures, with flows of 2,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). OMV believes that the discovery opens up new opportunities in the region. The Austrian company will continue to appraise the well and assess its holdings to confirm the size of the gas discovery. The well drilled by OMV is located just 25 kilometers south of the Latif gas field, and as such, it is well positioned to tie into existing infrastructure, such as gas processing facilities.
OMV holds a 33.4 percent stake in the project, along with its joint venture partners Pakistan Petroleum Limited (OTCMKTS: PKKKY) with a 33.3 percent stake, and a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni (NYSE: ENI), controlling the remaining 33.3 percent position.
OMV is also processing 2D and 3D seismic surveys in the Kalat block this year.
OMV is one of the larger operators in Pakistan, producing from several gas fields, including Sawan, Miano, Latif, Tajjal, and Mehar. The company produces around 400 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d) (or 65,000 boe/d) from its processing plants in Sawan, Kadanwari and Rehmat, which OMV says is about equal to 10 percent of Pakistan’s total gas supply.
OMV also has a stake in eight exploration licenses (five of which it is the operator) and six licenses in the development and production phase.
One of the other most important gas operators in Pakistan is Eni. Eni’s holdings are mostly south of OMV, also in Sindh Province. Eni produced 248 million cubic feet of natural gas per day in Pakistan at the end of 2014.
Eni made several key natural gas discoveries in recent years, including the Lundali in the Sukhpur Block, about 270 miles north of Karachi. In 2013, Eni’s Lundali-1 well had an impressive flow rate of 33 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d). That followed a previous discovery made a year earlier in the Badhra Block. That discovery held an estimated 300 to 400 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The bulk of Eni’s focus is on the Bhit/Bhadra block (40 percent stake), Sawan (23.68 percent stake), and Zamzama (17.75 percent stake). Eni is also partnered with Pakistan’s state-owned oil company, as well as a subsidiary of Kuwait’s state-owned oil company. Premier Oil (LON: PMO) holds small stakes in these fields as well.
Problems and Opportunities
For companies like OMV and Eni, Pakistan offers an interesting opportunity. The demand for natural gas is huge. In fact, the country is starved for new sources of gas, creating a captive market for operators.
But Pakistan is riddled with problems and is a tough place to do business. Energy is one area where the country faces a serious crisis. Pakistan is woefully deficient in reliable electricity, and power outages shave 2 percent off of GDP. It pays a dear price for imported energy. Millions of Pakistanis resort to wood for heat and fuel, plaguing the country with a massive deforestation problem.
The Pakistani government has implemented some measures to incentivize shale development. However there are several problems holding back investment. First, the geography is complex and infrastructure is inadequate. That raises the cost of development. Second, Pakistan regulates the price of natural gas in order to insulate the public, but that discourages investment as producers can’t realize adequate compensation.
To make up for the shortfall in natural gas, Pakistan constructed an LNG import terminal in Karachi, and the country signed a deal with Qatar to import 200 mmcf/d of LNG.
Pakistan is desperately trying to solve its energy shortfall, which creates opportunities for drillers. But it is also looking abroad with the help of some outside entities, not all of which are primarily concerned with Pakistan’s wellbeing.
Pakistan is at the crossroads of some geopolitical jockeying. Two competing pipeline projects have been on the drawing board for years but are inching forward. The U.S. backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline would connect Caspian Sea natural gas through Southeast Asia. There is also the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, which, following the nuclear deal with Iran and the pending removal of sanctions, is also in the works. The U.S. opposes the Iran-Pakistan project, but China is helping push it forward. Both projects would help ease the natural gas deficit in Pakistan, but the country will have to navigate competing pressure from China, the U.S., and Iran.
The government of Pakistan appears to prefer the Iranian route, due to its lower cost. The project could provide enough gas to erase the country’s electricity generation deficit. Also, Pakistan has a close alliance with China, making the project the obvious choice. China is planning an array of infrastructure projects, including roads, rail networks, deepwater ports, and pipelines.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting infrastructure development in Pakistan, providing the country with $1.2 billion in financial assistance each year between 2015 and 2019. The investment will focus on energy, transport, agriculture, natural resources, water, and urban infrastructure.
Pakistan has large natural gas reserves, albeit reserves that are in decline. The pent up demand in the country is massive. With millions of people without access to modern forms of energy, natural gas is sorely needed. Pakistan is also the second largest market in the world for natural gas vehicles, so demand for gas is not just for electricity and industrial purposes. Right now, blackouts are a regular occurrence, and shortfalls are made up from imports of LNG. But if the country can help E&P companies to develop domestic gas resources, the demand is a certainty.
Still, infrastructure constraints are real, and will hold back development. So will the high cost of production, coupled with regulated prices that cap returns on investment. This report did not even touch on the security concerns facing Pakistan, which throw up yet more red flags.
But a lot is about to change. New pipelines are in the works. Pakistan has no choice but to move rapidly to try to expand access to energy, as the security of the country depends on it. In recent years the government has raised the regulated price of gas to incentivize exploration and reduce the burden on the treasury. That will likely continue, although in fits and starts.
For investors, the opportunities are limited. Eni is a sizable producer, but is too large of a company to gain exposure. Other companies are state-owned. OMV is probably the best bet, as they are one of the largest producers in Pakistan while still being a mid-cap company. Their recent gas discovery near existing assets is a positive sign. Still, given all the problems in Pakistan, proceed with caution.