U.S. Spent $43 Million to Build Natural Gas Station in Afghanistan

by MELANIE HUNTER ARTER November 4, 2015

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko revealed in a report released in October that a gas station in Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers $43 million to build when it should have cost no more than $500,000, much like one built in Pakistan.

According to a Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO) study, "the Task Force spent nearly $43 million to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan," Sopko wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Oct. 22, 2015.

"The main purpose of the project was to demonstrate the commercial viability of CNG for automobiles in Afghanistan as part of a broader effort to take advantage of Afghanistan's domestic natural gas reserves and reduce the country's reliance on energy imports," Sopko continued.

According to the latest figures from U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Afghanistan imported 100 percent of the refined petroleum products it consumed between 1980 and 2012 and consumption of petroleum products has risen dramatically since 2005," the report noted. "Afghanistan has the potential, however, to produce much more energy domestically."

As recently as 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey found that "Northern Afghanistan has 15,687 billion cubic feet in undiscovered reserves of natural gas."

Although the task force "achieved its immediate objective of building the CNG filling station, it apparently did so at an exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers. In comparison, SIGAR found that a CNG station in Pakistan costs no more than $500,000 to construct," he wrote.

According to the special inspector general's report, "A 2005 CNG station feasibility study conducted by Pakistan's Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority concluded that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be $306,000 at current exchange rates."

The $43 million Afghanistan project CNG station cost 140 times as much as its counterpart in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the cost of converting a gas-powered car to run on compressed natural gas "may be prohibitive for the average Afghan," the report said.

It costs $700 to $800 per car to convert vehicles from gasoline-powered to CNG.

"This may explain why the U.S. Government paid for the conversion of over 120 Afghan vehicles to CNG so that they could use the filling station: ordinary Afghans simply couldn't afford to do it. Not surprisingly, SIGAR found no evidence that any other vehicles were converted to CNG," the report stated.

Furthermore, the report also points out that according to the World Bank, the average annual income in Afghanistan is only $690.

"In fact, an economic impact assessment performed at the request" of the task force found that the Afghanistan filling station project "produced no discernable macroeconomic gains and a discounted net loss of $31 million," the report stated.

"There is no indication that TFBSO considered the feasibility of achieving the station's broader objectives or considered any of the potentially considerable obstacles to the project's success before beginning construction," Sopko wrote in his letter to the Defense secretary.

"One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome," he added.

In response to Sopko's request for information, "the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Policy stated in June 2015 that the March 2015 closure of TFBSO resulted in the Office of the Secretary ‘no longer possessing the personnel expertise to address these questions or to assess properly the TFBSO information and documentation retained by WHS in the OSD Executive Archive,'" the letter stated.

"In written comments on a draft of this report, the Principal Under Secretary of Defense for Policy did not dispute our facts or findings, or provide any new information," Sopko wrote. "Instead, his comments reiterated his earlier position that because TSFBO closed in March 2015, the Department no longer has the expertise to answer any of SIGAR's questions about this project or about any other TFBSO activities.

"Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that DOD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFSBO, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago," Sopko wrote.

"I intend to continue our inquiry into TFSBO activities to shed additional light on how this program operated, what it achieved, how this enormous amount of money was spent, and whether any conduct by TFBSO staff or contractors was criminal in nature," he concluded.

Courtesy of CNSNews.com

Melanie has been with CNSNews.com since November 2000 as an evening editor responsible for writing, editing and posting stories to the website. She was promoted to deputy managing editor in 2002, overseeing the radio production department in addition to her daily editing duties. Prior to working at CNSNews.com, Melanie served as news director for WKYS-FM, one of Washington, D.C.'s top-rated radio stations. Ms. Hunter also worked as a traffic reporter for Shadow Broadcasting in the nation's capital and prior to that, as a news anchor/reporter for WAMO-FM in Pittsburgh, Pa. Her television experience was obtained at several Washington, D.C. stations. She worked for America's Most Wanted at Fox affiliate WTTG, the Creative Services Department of WUSA-TV and the Evening Exchange on WHUT-TV. She holds a bachelor's degree in television production from Howard University.

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