FIREWOOD is a common source of energy in rural areas. Charcoal is abundantly used in urban area but have both a negative environmental repercussion. (File photo)
MORE gas discoveries are being made but experts are showing concern over more focus on short-term benefits and are advising the government to also focus on increasing local consumption and how to transform and integrate local people livelihoods into natural gas production and activities and ensure that they benefit from the sector.
For the villagers of Msimbati in the Mnazi Bay area, in Mtwara Region life is no longer the same. After the discovery of natural gas, electricity has been installed and this has changed people's life styles, while the gas economy begins to take shape.
According to Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), over 40 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of commercial gas reserves have been discovered so far. This is good news to both urban and rural population whose energy consumption depends on solid fuels.
For the people of East Africa, Tanzania in particular, the recent gas finds in Mozambique and Tanzania could provide benefits to the whole region by using domestically, a significant share of the production.
Indeed, natural gas can be used for a host of different applications such as cooking, power generation, and transportation and fertilizer production, a briefing paper issue in May this year by the Sustainable Development Solution Network, a Global Initiative for the United Nations.
For cooking, natural gas would be a great alternative to wood fuel,which causes indoor air pollution and health problems. For industry, power generation and transport, natural gas could represent an interesting alternative to imported oil products.
Experts in Tanzania are, however, concerned over concentration of focus on short-term benefits suggesting instead a sustained focus on increasing local consumption and how to transform and integrate local people livelihoods into natural gas production and activities and ensure that they benefit from the sector.
University of Dar es Salaam experts, Dr Aloyce Hepelwa, Dr Masoud Dauda and Mr Stephen Kirama who were commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Tanzania) to conduct an "Evidenced-Based Research and Policy Review on Oil and Natural Gas Sector in Tanzania", are of the opinion that the country should think of increasing domestic consumption first by establishing and building industries simultaneously while drilling and lying of pipeline are underway.
"Tanzania must enhance the local economy not only by increasing domestic consumption and market, but by also stimulating domestic investments such as the number of industries that would be established or increase the number of users," the experts have pointed out.
According to available information it appears that overall, the consumption of dry natural gas in Africa was less than the production. This implies that the surplus of natural gas is exported outside Africa. Net exports of natural gas from Africa are expected to be more than double, reaching more than 230 bcm by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2012).
It is estimated that natural gas production in Africa would expand to almost 400 bcm by 2035 (IEA, 2012), with regional natural gas consumption growing to almost 170 bcm. The proportion of natural gas from Tanzania is relatively small but is expected to increase in the near future following the recent discoveries. Gas consumption in Africa has been growing at a rate of about 6% per year since 2000.
The data on production and consumption of natural gas in African countries indicate that, 40% of the natural gas produced is consumed and the rest is for exports.
"The fact that many countries are now investing in natural gas is attributed to the claim that gas is both economically and environmentally viable when compared to other fossil fuels," experts have said. South Africa for example consumes more than what is produced in that country.
This means that most of the natural gas used in South Africa is imported from other African countries. This is a reflection of industrial development in South Africa, which uses significant amount of gas. In Tanzania, however, the production and consumption of the natural gas has remained the same.
"The new discoveries may necessitate exports of the natural gas until the domestic use is relatively high to absorb the production," the University dons said in a report that was handed over to WWF Tanzania recently. They pointed out that to facilitate the domestic consumption of the natural gas for domestic consumption, it was important to look at the prices of household equipment needed to use gas such as cooking stoves.
The experts also pointed that the need for raising public awareness on the cost effectiveness of using gas for household activities rather than other means of energy resources such as electricity, firewood etc is another key issue to be considered.
"There is unfounded belief that gas is dangerous to use. This should be addressed by dissemination to the grass roots on the efficient uses of gas and gas products," they noted, saying that CSOs should ensure local communities are well prepared to take up opportunities arising from gas development.
Such opportunities, they said include employment, this require local people to have acquired the necessary and right skills needed. "The role of CSOs should be to identify the skills needed and assess the gap from the local community point of view, then try to fill the gap through facilitation of training to equip local communities with the right skills," they pointed out.
Natural gas presents an opportunity for a cheap energy source at the local level. Thus CSOs should also look for means into which local people can utilize this cheaper energy source.
"For example, one should find out how local people can make use of cheap energy from the natural gas," they said adding that there was a need to identify all activities emanating from gas production and then lay down strategies that may enable local people to be involved directly or indirectly in these activities.
The activities could be actual work on gas or work in other activities that may emerge from the gas sector such as services from gas resource - energy.
Natural gas is a flexible resource that can be used for various applications. While a large share of the rural and urban population in Eastern Africa depends on solid biomass for cooking, which causes deforestation and health problems, natural gas could represent a clean and affordable alternative.
Natural gas - as a fuel for combined cycle power plant - allows to generate electricity at an affordable price and can be efficiently used for balancing fluctuating renewable resources, like wind or solar. CNG could also represent a cheaper fuel alternative for road transportation than gasoline or diesel.
Finally, the agricultural sector could also benefit from the cheap domestic natural gas, since it could allow producing locally more affordable nitrogenous fertilizers than the current imports.
"Important issues to address include how to transform and integrate local people livelihoods into natural gas production and activities and ensure that they benefit from the sector," adding that, for example, how can agriculture benefit from natural gas or how cashewnut production can be linked with the natural gas production etc?
The experts also wrote on the need for promotion of intergenerational benefits, cautioning that natural gas was a non-renewable resource that would be depleted in time.
They pointed out that the current consumption should consider promotion of other renewable resources, such as forests, solar, geothermal and wind power. "A substantial amount of the revenue generated from the sector should be reinvested back into other renewable resources so that once the natural gas is depleted, the future generation can have considerable amount of renewable resources well conserved," they argued.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), proven world natural gas reserves were estimated to be around 180 trillion cubic meters by the end of 2005. Using the 2006 projections in which the annual rate of production growth was about 2 per cent, the supply of natural gas from the world reserves was predicted to last for only about 40 years.
What is important to note, however, is that in recent years, the demand for natural gas has increased enormously in developing countries, and even more striking is the fact that Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (China in particular) are places where demand for natural gas has greatly increased.