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Will The Recent Indo-US Energy Strategy Aid Atmanirbhar Bharat?

Amidst the low demand for oil in the context of the extended effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global oil storage at its maximum, it is very strange and anachronic that the Indian government is seriously discussing the possibility India storing oil in the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase their nation’s strategic oil stockpile. As many readers may be aware India has made its own strategic storage currently in Vishakhapatnam and Mangalore and has been exploring the possibility in other places in the Western Ghats and in Rajasthan.

The concern over the strategic meeting and its outcome is not this potential storage of our strategic resource need in a place as far as the United States whilst countries which have been always friendly with us and oil-rich are close by and could offer the same facilities, if we cannot do it for ourselves. This is in a very preliminary stage and for the present if the cooperation on this aspect enables us to understand the practices in the United States and to compare notes and improve wherever possible in our strategic storage locations and become self-dependent (Atmanirbhar). However, one would have thought that if there was anything, we should have sought, is support in enhancing investments and improving our exploration capabilities to be able to find enough oil within our jurisdiction.
Strategic storage may not be a critical factor since India’s current refining capacity of 249.9 million tonnes per annum exceeded domestic consumption of petroleum products by nearly 40 million tonnes in the previous fiscal and likely to be higher this fiscal. Therefore, there is actually no big pressure to have a strategic storage.Further the demand of 335 million tonnes per annum by 2030 and to 472 million tonnes by 2040 according to government estimates need to be seriously re-looked and tempered in the wake of the changing scenario in the energy sector globally.
Americans in the recent times, especially since the turbulence in their trade relations with China, have been becoming protectionist at one end and reaching out to expand their trade with other nations. In the midst of our own recent dissonance with the Chinese, perhaps the Trump Administration is trying to capitalise onthe situation. Our hydrocarbon trade with United States is touching nearly 10 Billion US $, almost double the 2017-18 figures, and this virtual meet has further affirmed to promote greater hydrocarbon trade between the two countries. Here trade effectively means that we import more of American petroleum products. It is also not very surprising that the Americans are also pushing for expensive gas and through the U.S.-India Natural Gas Task Force, tampering with the policy and regulatory space in the name of “innovative projects to support the Government of India’s vision to increase the share of natural gas in India’s energy sector”.

The really serious concern about this virtual dialogue on energy strategy between the two countries stems from a statement of  Dan Brouillette, US Secretary of Energy, who said: “The US and India share a bedrock belief that there is no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ energy. We are committed to deploying every energy fuel and technology at our disposal.”

If this statement has been made based on what the Indian Government officials have shared, it means that like the United States, India may also be reneging the Paris Accord. While the bilateral venture is euphemistically called the US-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy-Research (PACE-R) and seeks to advance smart grids and energy storage, the announcement was focused on promoting dirty energy through so called “transformational” supercritical and advanced coal technologies and false climate solutions like Carbon Capture and Storage. Added to this was the further cooperation on nuclear technologies which have proven to be the most expensive and risky. Unfortunately, these are issues not seriously debated among the public and long-term considerations are not raised but short-term contextual political decisions have long and tenuous consequences.

While a lot of nice sentiments are expressed in terms of clean energy and women empowerment in the energy sector, one must be careful that we do not lose plot of moving towards a more democratic ownership of clean energy resources which should be the goal of any Indian Government. It is time that India serious redesigns it development model with a greater focus on distributed, end-use oriented energy generation and utilisation model that can generate local livelihoods, enable better management of organic waste, and improve agricultural biodiversity instead of being led into a garden path of climate unfriendly energy choices to pander to volatile political situations.

About Sreedhar Ramamurthi

R. Sreedhar is an earth scientist and managing trustee of Environics Trust. He has been working with mining effected communities focusing on environmental protection and labour rights. He can be contacted at environics@gmail.com

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