Amjad Ali |

Multan (Pakistan) (EFE) in their homes and the high price of energy.

Karak district boasts rich reserves of natural gas and oil, but locals can only enjoy these resources by illegally hosing them off and storing them in plastic bags, similar to helium balloons, for walking from the field to their homes.

With this technique, known in the district as ‘bag gas’, the container can explode at any time, risking the lives of those who transport the gas to cope with the high prices of cylinders or liquefied gas on the market.

“We know that they are traveling bombs that we take to our homes, to our children,” Gul Hassan, a resident of Karak, told EFE.

Natural gas in plastic bags, a "bomb" to be able to cook in pakistan
Natural gas in plastic bags, a “bomb” to be able to cook in Pakistan. EFE/EPA/Basit Gilani

Some people, especially women, have suffered burns after some gas balloons caught fire, according to various local media reports.

“It can explode at any time and catch fire while we’re using it, but we don’t want to starve or freeze to death either,” Hassan said.

energy crisis

Pakistan’s economy has been hit by the high cost of natural gas and oil, especially after the devastating floods in the summer of 2022, which affected 33 million people, displaced 8 million and killed 1,700.

Added to this is the deterioration in the quality of life and the high inflation experienced by the Asian country, which has pushed the most disadvantaged to the limit, with fewer and fewer options to purchase fuel with which to cook or heat themselves.

Pakistan is the 21st largest consumer of natural gas in the world and is currently facing severe shortages due to increased demand in the winter months. The country has 1,700 million cubic feet per day of gas, insufficient for a demand of 2,500 million cubic feet per day, according to government data.

Gas shortages led to the arrest of a group of people last December for allegedly participating in the illegal natural gas trade in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Natural gas in plastic bags, a "bomb" to be able to cook in pakistan
Neighbors fill plastic bags with natural gas to cook at home in the Karak district. EFE/EPA/Basit Gilani

The black market for gas

Despite the arrests by the authorities, the illegal practice not only continues in the area, but increasingly involves more people. Neighbors in the area dug a hole in the main line to fill the plastic bags with a hose.

The practice has led some people to make a business of it, helping to fill the bags with gas and getting paid according to the size of the container.

“We simply help them fill their bags and we charge them a little,” a person involved in this activity told EFE on condition of anonymity.

gas dependency

As the black market spins its profit net, Pakistan’s two gas companies, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines and Sui Southern Gas, have been granted permission by the state regulator to increase their prices by 74.42% and 75.35% respectively to early January.

The decrease in gas reserves, added to the increase in prices and the high demand that Pakistan is experiencing, has caused an increase in the dependence on countries such as Qatar for the import of liquefied gas.

These imports, which accounted for approximately $2.6 billion during fiscal year 2021, are expected to exceed $32 billion by fiscal year 2030, according to a recent study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The study further noted that Pakistan’s transition to liquefied natural gas “undermines the country’s energy security and financial stability.”

Pakistan is faced with gas thefts and the failure to exploit its reserves. The Government is now considering the possibility of importing natural gas from countries like Russia and Iran, both sanctioned by the international community.

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