Watchdog says US way overspent on CNG station in Afghanistan

Ah. Well, this is awkward. It seems that the US military spent nearly $43 million between 2011 and 2014 on a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan. That's a lot, even with the absurd cost of getting materials in country.

The story, uncovered by the list-loving folks at Buzzfeed, cites a report from Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko (PDF warning). It seems that the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations awarded a $3-million contract to Central Asian Engineering way back in August 2011 to build a CNG station in Sheberghan, a city in northern Afghanistan and near the country's rich natural gas fields. It was thought the station could demonstrate the value of CNG fuel as an alternative to importing petrol or diesel, the report explained. Over the next three years, though, $3 million somehow ballooned to $42,718,739. A similar station in Pakistan cost "no more than $500,000 to construct."

Despite this fact, "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," the report read. Ineptitude and overspending aside, the CNG station's price tag would have at least been a little bit easier to swallow if it would have actually done some good. As it stands, though, SIGAR's report goes on to explain that there's a lot working against the station's success. "SIGAR was unable to find any evidence that TFSBO considered potential obstacles to the CNG filling station's success before initiating the $43 million project," the report condemned.

Despite the station being built close to the country's natural gas fields, the infrastructure doesn't exist to "support a viable market for CNG vehicles." The report cites a World Bank report that claims "the development of such markets often depends on the proximity of gas transmission pipelines." Afghanistan, though, only has one CNG pipeline, and SIGAR explains that building a second between the Sheberghan fields and the capital, Kabul, would cost nearly $1 billion. Afghanistan's well-known security issues also complicate matters.

In closing, SIGAR rightly called the $43-million station's price tag "gratuitous and extreme." TFSBO concluded its operations in Afghanistan in December 2014.

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