In an insightful conversation with Kurdistan Chronicle, Unigaz Holding CEO Mahmoud Sidani discusses the company's remarkable 70-year journey from a small gas station in Lebanon to a global player. Sidani underscores the vital role of natural gas in Kurdistan's future, boosting economic investment and elevating the region's profile in the global energy arena.
Amidst evolving energy challenges worldwide, Sidani envisions Kurdistan as a potential gas supplier once it meets domestic demand and builds energy infrastructure in collaboration with the private sector.
Mahmoud Sidani, the CEO of Unigaz Holding
Kurdistan Chronicle (KC): Could you please introduce yourself and share the story of Unigaz Holding in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and beyond?
Mahmoud Sidani (MS): Certainly, thank you for having me. I am Mahmoud Sidani, CEO of Unigaz Holding. Unigaz's journey began almost 70 years ago as a family business in Lebanon that was established as a modest gas station. Today, I am proud to say that Unigaz is expanding globally as a leading company in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) sector, operating in over twenty countries across Africa and the Middle East.
KC: What is the level and volume of natural gas in the KRI, and do you consider it a significant energy source for the region?
MS: Natural gas indeed holds great importance as an energy source for the future of Kurdistan. It could spur economic investment for the region and position Kurdistan on the global energy map. Crescent Petroleum - Dana Gas produces around 500 million cubic feet of natural gas. This resource can cater to the internal energy needs of Kurdistan and potentially be exported to neighboring countries, especially considering the heightened demand due to global events.
KC: Are Kurdistan’s natural gas reserves primarily intended for domestic consumption, or do you foresee the possibility of exporting them?
MS: Currently, natural gas production in the KRI meets local energy requirements, particularly for electricity generation. However, if production increases, priority will be given to fulfilling other domestic demands. With the necessary investments and development in the gas sector, Kurdistan could emerge as a significant energy source for the region. The KRI’s role in developing natural gas fields positions it as a pioneer, with the potential to be a valuable resource in the medium and long term for the region.
KC: Can you provide insights into the schedule for the natural gas pipeline project?
MS: The natural gas pipeline project to supply households in the region is a strategic focus for the Kurdistan government. They are strongly dedicated to developing the gas sector, including delivering gas to residential areas. This initiative will positively affect various sectors, including oil refining and electricity. Considering that Kurdistan relies on electricity for heating during the winter, in addition to white oil and gasoline, this project could alleviate the financial burden on the government and contribute to environmental improvement by transitioning to gas, known for its high-combustion efficiency.
KC: What is the expected timeline for the project's completion?
MS: The commencement and completion timeline for a project of this magnitude depends on several factors. One of the primary challenges is the need for more appropriate legislation in the KRI. Drawing from our global expertise and presence in numerous countries, such projects often necessitate collaboration between the public and private sectors. Governments may need more knowledge and financial resources to independently execute such projects. Hence, involving the private sector can enhance operational efficiency and ensure the project's sustainability, as practiced by most countries worldwide.
KC: Could you provide an estimated cost for the project?
MS: The cost for a project of this scale could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, based on our experiences in other countries where we've operated. In substantial investments, cooperation between the public and private sectors becomes indispensable. The actual cost will vary based on project scope, design, and the diverse proposals for distributing natural gas to households.
KC: How do you assess the role of the regional government in supporting foreign companies like Unigaz?
MS: From a technical perspective, the regional government has continued to show strong support for the business sector, with a steady focus on empowering the private sector. It's important to acknowledge that the world faces financial and economic challenges on a global scale, and no region is entirely immune to international crises. Nonetheless, the government's prudent approach has aided in mitigating their impacts, and foreign companies like Unigaz have observed this positive trend.
KC: What is your vision regarding the expected direction of energy usage in future residential buildings in the KRI, particularly concerning LPG systems?
MS: Looking ahead to the Kurdistan Region's future, we envision a significant shift towards enhancing the convenience and safety of energy usage in residential buildings. We aim to introduce centralized LPG systems in every residential community, and this step holds great promise. Firstly, centralized LPG distribution aligns perfectly with our commitment to user-friendliness and maintenance. Residents will no longer need to be concerned about individual safety and maintenance matters, as the centralized system ensures regular and secure LPG delivery to their homes. Secondly, the successful implementation of this vision requires the formulation of comprehensive policies and guidelines. The Civil Defense Authority plays a crucial role by collaborating to establish installation guidelines and ensuring proper system maintenance. It's encouraging to note that progress has already been initiated. Lastly, addressing the regulation of LPG tank placement necessitates active involvement from relevant authorities in determining permitted and restricted areas. The responsible leaders will be pivotal in identifying suitable locations for LPG tank installations. This involves carefully assessing safety, accessibility, and urban planning considerations. By closely collaborating with local governments and urban development planners, we can ensure that the positioning of LPG tanks harmonizes with public infrastructure.