Public sector oil companies’ drive to make liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) available in underserved areas and create new markets for the clean cooking fuel is not aimed at making profits, but an attempt at empowering women, said oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
Empowerment of women is closely linked to the country’s energy economy and this goal is driving investments in the entire gas value chain, Pradhan said at a two-day international conference on ‘LPG: Catalyst for social change’, which started here on Thursday.
“Energy economy and women’s empowerment are closely linked. LPG is a source of clean fuel to millions of poor households in the country and an effective tool for empowering women from poor households and for bringing about social change,” the minister said at the conference, organized by state-owned refiners Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and the Research and Development Initiative, a social research organization.
Within four months of launching a scheme on 1 May for distributing five crore LPG connections without upfront payments to women below the poverty line, 50 lakh connections have been given out, a statement from the oil ministry said, adding that women from hill states and the north-eastern region will be accorded priority.
Indian Oil chairman B. Ashok said state-owned companies are investing in setting up infrastructure to meet the increased demand for LPG.
“All the facilities required including LPG import terminals, pipelines and bottling plants are being built. Domestic production of LPG is also going up. At the Paradip refinery in Odisha, we have installed a technology for greater LPG output from the same amount of crude oil than what can be produced otherwise. The industry used to import about 40% of our 19-20 million tonnes of LPG requirement and imports are going up, for which we are setting up infrastructure,” he said.
Indian Oil’s Rs.35,000 crore Paradip refinery, inaugurated in February, has the capacity to produce about 7.9 lakh tonnes of LPG a year.
“However, there is only a limited increase in domestic capacity that we can achieve in existing refineries. Unless we have new refineries, we will have to meet the remaining requirement through imports,” Ashok said.
Indian Oil is constructing a five million tonne liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal at Ennore in Tamil Nadu.
The company is also in the process of laying an LPG pipeline from Ennore to Madurai.
State-owned explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd is now exploring the construction of an LNG re-gasification terminal at Mangalore in association with the New Mangalore Port Trust.
Pradhan said that LPG has reached a substantial part of the population, but not the bottom of the pyramid, for whom the upfront cost and the cost of refill is a challenge.
“The Ujjwala scheme is addressing this. Now, we have 16 crore consumers who accept LPG subsidy and another two crore consumers who do not. We are trying to create awareness among the first category that subsidy is actually meant for the really needy, not for everyone. Expanding LPG consumption is not a business for our public sector companies, it is a social empowerment tool,” the minister said.
Switching to LPG for cooking brings immense health benefits, say experts. Household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels causes about nine lakh premature deaths a year in India, according to Kirk R. Smith, professor of global environment health, University of California, who was present on the occasion. “A typical biomass cook stove releases 400 cigarettes per hour worth of smoke,” he added.