ISLAMABAD, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Severe energy shortages have left Pakistan's private power companies with about 50 percent less electricity generation capability than normal demand, leading to blackouts.
The companies -- ramshackle and starved for investment -- are blacking out both urban and rural areas, with some blackouts lasting 20 hours per day.
The National Grid faces a shortfall of more than 5,000 megawatts in power generation, producing about 11,000 megawatts of electricity, while the country needs more than 17,000 megawatts of power daily to meet the rising demand of a growing population.
As a result, Islamabad is interested in a report issued in June by the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, estimating Pakistan's recoverable shale gas reserves at 105 trillion cubic feet, with more than 9 billion barrels of oil, dwarfing previous estimates of 24 tcf of recoverable natural gas proven reserves and 300 million barrels of recoverable oil.
Pakistan currently produces about 4.2 billion cubic feet of gas and about 70,000 barrels of oil per day.
The reserves are located in the southern and central Indus basins in Pakistan, along the country's borders with India and Afghanistan, Dawn newspaper reported Wednesday.
Pakistan's government has reacted cautiously to the EIA data, with a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying that while the new U.S. government estimates appeared to be "very, very encouraging," they had not yet been formally shared with the government of Pakistan.
Given the country's serious and ongoing energy shortages Pakistan has even reached out to arch-rival India. Seeking to forge a new diplomatic relationship, Pakistan's newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared recently it would leave no stone unturned to improve relations with India. New Delhi reciprocated the interest when an expert group of Indian Power Ministry led by Joint Secretary Rita Acharya visited Pakistan in June and offered building a series of high power voltage lines to transmit 500 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan.
Conservative elements in Pakistani Foreign Office apparently sabotaged the initiative, leading a major Pakistani energy magnate to declare: "History will never forgive and spare those evil elements who have done such a huge disservice to the motherland by succeeding in having this project discarded. They'll be exposed and become an example of horror for the entire mankind. You just wait here and see how the truth would take its course to expose the extremist mindset in our security ranks. This is an unpardonable crime that would never be forgiven."
If the EIA estimates prove accurate, then the next step for Islamabad is to secure both funding and expertise to exploit its shale gas reserves. While the United States is currently the world's leader in shale gas extraction, the Washington-Islamabad relationship is both complex and strained.
Bilateral trade stands at roughly 45 billion per annum. If the EIA figures prove accurate, then it seems more likely that Pakistan will turn to China to develop its energy assets, as bilateral trade is now worth more than $10 billion per year.