Slow Pace

Initiatives to increase pipeline connectivity in unserved regions

The government is working towards transforming India into a gas-based economy and has set an ambitious target of raising the share of gas in the primary energy mix from 6 per cent in 2018 to 15 per cent by 2022. However, legacy issues such as inadequate pipeline connectivity in certain regions continue to hamper gas offtake. At present, gas supply infrastructure is concentrated in the northern and north-western regions of the country. Given the lacuna in connectivity, operators are developing a number of projects such as the North-eastern Gas Grid and the Jagdishpur-Haldia-Bokaro-Dhamra pipeline (JHBDPL) to unlock the potential in underpenetrated regions. Besides, transnational gas pipelines are also being planned to meet the increasing demand for natural gas in India.

Operational gas transmission network

The operational natural gas pipeline network spans about 16,324 km, as of May 1, 2019. The entire operational network has been a combined design capacity 356.3 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of gas. These operational pipelines are operated by a few major players. GAIL Gas Limited holds the majority share of about 70 per cent in the pipeline network and 65 per cent of transmission capacity. The other major players are Gujarat State Petronet Limited (GSPL) and Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Limited (RGTIL). Together, GAIL Gas, GSPL and RGTIL own and operate 97 per cent of the total pipeline network and total transmission capacity in the sector. Further, GAIL Gas operates the country’s longest pipeline  – the 4,554 km Hazira-Vijaipur-Jagdishpur pipeline, which has a design capacity of 53 mmscmd.

Under-construction gas pipeline projects: Mired in delays

In a bid to provide last-mile pipeline connectivity, gas pipeline operators have been undertaking projects for the development of new pipeline infrastructure. As of May 1, 2019, about 8,423 km of natural gas pipelines are under construction. In terms of length, the 2,539 km JHBDPL project (excluding the Guwahati-Barauni extension project) is the biggest pipeline project and is being implemented by GAIL (India) Limited. The pipeline will pass through the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha and has a design capacity of 16 mmscmd. In terms of capacity, Andhra Pradesh Gas Distribution Corporation Limited’s Kakinada-Visakhapatnam-Srikakulam pipeline project has the maximum design capacity of 90 mmscmd.

While a number of pipeline laying works have been sanctioned, actual progress on the ground has been slow. A case in point is the JHBDPL project that was sanctioned in 2007 and even after over a decade, only 735 km (about 30 per cent) of the work has been completed. The remaining work is in progress with completion expected by 2021. Another case in point is the Bathinda-Srinagar gas pipeline project that is aimed at providing uninterrupted gas supply to consumers in landlocked Jammu & Kashmir. The project has achieved no major progress since 2011. Further, the Kochi-Kottanad-Bengaluru-Mangaluru pipeline was sanctioned in 2007 but work started only in January 2012, after a delay of five years. Later, due to protests over its alignment and issues related to obtaining right-of-way (RoW) clearances in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, work had to be stopped in November 2013. As of June 2019, only 440 km of pipeline work has been completed.

Planned pipeline projects

Plans for about 4,700 km of additional domestic gas pipelines are on the anvil. GAIL (India) Limited alone has planned a capital investment of Rs 70 billion to lay another 1,400 km of pipelines. The project is currently under evaluation and once work commences, it is expected to be completed by 2023. Apart from this, the 1,656 km Northern Gas Grid, also known as the Indradhanush Gas Grid, will provide natural gas supply to the north-eastern states of Assam, Sikkim, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The foundation stone for the project was laid in February 2019 but construction work is yet to begin. Besides these projects, the Mathura-Tundla pipeline augmentation project (251 km) and the Mumbai-Angul natural gas pipeline project (1,400 km) are two other gas pipeline projects that are at the planning stage.

Besides domestic pipelines, the government is also focusing on laying transnational pipelines such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI), and the India-Russia pipelines. However, little progress has been seen on the ground due to factors such as complexity of the projects, involvement of international governments, the dynamism of foreign policies and changing geopolitical situations.

Conclusion

While the infrastructure plans look promising, the need of the hour is to speed up overall development of the gas transmission network. Most of these projects are still mired in issues related to RoW and protests by locals. With the country’s natural gas consumption expected to increase to about 70 billion cubic metres by 2022, speedy implementation of gas pipeline projects is essential to provide last-mile connectivity to unserved regions. That said, measures such as adequate funding from the government, better coordination among stakeholders, simplifying the process of obtaining approvals, and reducing delays caused by obstructions in shifting of underground utilities will go a long way in the timely execution of pipeline projects.

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