Iran, Pakistan teams to attend pipeline talks

New Delhi, January 20:

Senior officials from Iran and Pakistan will attend a two-day international workshop being hosted by India January 30-31 to iron out technical details of their ambitious tri-nation gas pipeline project.

Despite the pressures being exerted by the US, petroleum ministry officials are optimistic that the mega project would still move ahead and are proceeding with the decisions taken during the bilateral joint working group meetings held in the capital with Pakistan and followed up with Iran in December.

One of the decisions had been to set up technical level panels to discuss specifications about the pipeline. “Around 24 global majors, including two or three Indian companies, would be participating in the workshop being held here on January 30. Based on the input received at the workshop, further technical discussions will be held on January 31,” a senior petroleum ministry official said.

“Our objective is to find out the international best practices as also whether our steel plate manufacturers would be able to make the pipelines required for the project. The workshop would help us get a better idea about the steel grade desirable for handling the operation pressure of gas,” the official said.

Chaired by officials from GAIL (India) Ltd and the Indian Oil Corporation, representatives from the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) and Pakistan’s Interstate Gas Company Limited (IGCL), which has been assigned the task of handling gas import pipelines, would be attending the two-day meet.

The technical workshop would also help the three countries have a better assessment about the project cost, which is currently being estimated to be over $7 billion.

The quantum of gas the pipeline would be required to carry would have a major bearing on the structure of the pipeline. Currently India has estimated a requirement of 60-90 million standard cubic metre per day (MMSCMD), while Pakistan envisages requirement of 30-50 MMSCMD.

It is still to be finalised whether the quantity envisaged would require construction of one pipeline or two. Besides the quantum, the route would be a deciding factor in the technical specification of the pipeline.

Senior officials involved with the technical aspects of the pipeline admit that while the talks are on the on-land route “we are not very comfortable with it given the problems in Balochistan. Our preference remains the deep-sea or offshore shallow area route.”

The cost of the offshore route is however expected to be much more than the onshore route. En route to the project execution several important decisions still remain to be taken, including whether the project will finally get executed by the three countries together as an integrated project, or - as suggested by Iran to overcome US pressure - with each country constructing the pipeline in its respective territory.

The workshop on the pipeline is yet another major step towards realization of a major project that could help India bridge the growing gap between its domestic gas demand and indigenous production.