Syed Imran Ahmed

‘We never know the worth of water till the well is dry,’ so goes an old saying. These days, the saying can be rephrased to read as, ‘we never know the worth of gas till the well is dry.’ If we had foreseen a bigger picture, the country would not have been faced with an energy crisis of serious proportions. Against the total demand of 8 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd), supply is 4 bcfd, creating a shortfall which made our winters quite hard. Domestic sector being a high priority segment gets preference in the use of natural gas followed by commercial, power, general industries, cement and CNG sectors.

In spite of regular curtailment of gas to CNG and the industrial sector, it sometimes becomes difficult for SSGC to even service the domestic consumers properly.

A ray of hope recently came in the form of the inauguration of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which is expected to go a long way in bridging the gap in the demand and supply of natural gas. If Pakistan completes its portion of the pipeline by 2016, the country will have access to about 750 mmcfd thus helping to bridge the widening fissure. Projects such as Iran-Pakistan pipeline are macro level decisions taken by the governments to sustain energy supplies. On the micro-level, with the demand and supply gap showing no signs of closing in, it becomes incumbent on all stakeholders to play their part in conserving gas, regardless of whether it is a winter or a summer season.

Historically, there is a huge variation in demand for natural gas during summer and winter seasons. Because the use of heating appliances increases substantially during winters, the demand for gas in Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa increases four times more in winters than in summers. This does not mean that with the widening gap, the customers will have the luxury of consuming enormous quantities of gas in summers. Those days perhaps are over, unless we want to turn this bleak situation around.

Reasons for Disequilibrium

A number of factors have contributed to the present state of affairs. While on the exploration side, gas discoveries have become few and far between, the rising trend of Unaccounted-for-Gas (UFG) caused by gas theft, underground and overhead leakages, illegal connections and meter tampering along with gas distribution in economically unfeasible areas owing to the Government’s socio-economic considerations, third-party damages and law and order situation have placed a strain on the already depleted natural resources. In addition, the inability to practice alternative energy solutions have left us with little choices, although LNG, LPG and transnational pipelines remain our best bets to augment medium to long-term supplies. Space heating at homes is considerably reduced in summers, for obvious reasons, but the rising UFG trend, despite the efforts of both the gas utilities to stem it, is making demand-supply equation highly vulnerable.

Developing an effective message

Such a scenario should not put fears in our minds about a gasless future but a steely resolve to act fast to reverse the situation. SSGC has always been on the forefront of not just taking strategic measures to ensure uninterrupted gas supply but in making the public owe up to the crisis and make an effective contributing in alleviating it.

But how do you ‘sell’ the idea of conserving gas to its biggest group of stakeholders – the domestic consumers? What areas to focus on? What messages to communicate? How best to portray these messages for effective results? In the recent past, as the demand-supply disequilibrium worsened, the Company’s Corporate Communication Department almost instinctively intensified its mass education and awareness campaigns related to natural gas conservation, along with other media campaigns.

Tips for Summer

The Company’s public awareness media campaigns on energy conservation stresses on giving handy tips to the customer to ensure that they use gas sensibly and safely. These campaigns run during both summer and winter seasons. For summers, the Company’s message for customers using gas-fired appliances including stoves, geysers and heater revolves around the following basic tips:

a) Turn off the geyser with the advent of the summer season,

b) Switch off stoves when not in use,

c) Report unauthorized use of gas or incidents of gas theft by calling the Company’s 24/7 Contact Centre agents on 1199,

d) Always use good quality gas appliances that conform to standards laid down by Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) and;

e) Periodic check of gas appliances by qualified plumbers to ensure their maximum effectiveness.

An SSGC television commercial currently doing the rounds shows a young kid asking her mother a much dreaded question, “Mom, can gas ever be finished?”, which prompted a stunned, yet thought provoking look from her.

The role of the child is apt since he is the one who represents the future generation for whom enough gas should be available. To reach out to diverse demographics, the TVC runs in Urdu and Sindh languages. And while the underlying motive is conservation, SSGC’s campaigns also expect its customers to be a little more proactive by reporting leakages and theft in their surroundings.

Side by side with these conventional tools, the Communication Department recently came up with an ingenious and cost-effective idea of having scrolls, break bumpers (minute long brief announcements placed between a pause in the program and its commercial breaks) and sponsorship announcements run on television and radio channels to convey UFG related messages.

The frequency of insertions is quite high especially during prime time programming, ensuring that the listeners are able to register the Company’s messages related to gas theft, leakages and other issues that directly impact the Company and its consumers. Recurring messages create a top of the mind recall and ultimately a positive action from the customers.

At the end of the day, the message is simple yet strong: While strategic decisions to conserve natural resources are necessary, a customer’s role is equally vital to create a win-win situation.

The writer is the SSGC Dy. Chief Manager, Corporate Communications.