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U.S. Taxpayers Spent $43 Million On A Gas Station In Afghanistan

And a chunk of that money is still unaccounted for, according to a new report
Nov 02, 2015 at 9:49 AM ET
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SIGAR

The Department of Defense spent upwards of $43 million to build a gas station in Afghanistan between 2011 and last year — and a chunk of that money is still unaccounted for, according to a new report.

The cost of a natural gas filling station in the city of Sheberghan, in northern Afghanistan, totaled a stunning $42,718,739 to be exact, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), released on Monday. “DOD charged the American taxpayer $43 million for what is likely the world’s most expensive gas station,” John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in an email to Vocativ.

SIGAR found that $30 million of that went to overhead while $12.3 million was spent on direct costs for the station. Another $3 million contract for the construction of the station remains accounted for.

The State Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which was responsible for planning the station’s construction, has declined to explain itself. “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,” Sopko wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on October 22.

A comparable gas station for filling cars with compressed natural gas inside the U.S. costs anywhere between $10,000 to $1.8 million, according to a 2014 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy. And a filling station in Pakistan was expected to cost no more than $500,000, according to SIGAR.

The $43 million gas station was part of a State Department project aimed at minimizing Afghanistan’s reliance on imported gas. The country imported 100 percent of its gasoline from 1980-2012, a SIGAR analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration data found, and the idea was that Afghanistan instead look to its natural reserves. The country possesses over 15 billion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, according to the latest U.S. Geological Survey.

The State Department, however, never conducted any “feasibility studies” or surveys about the logistics of how a natural gas filling station in Afghanistan would work, the SIGAR report said. If it had, it might have found that Afghanistan lacked significant infrastructure to pump natural gas.

Other aspects are also expensive. Converting a car from gasoline to natural gas costs an estimated average of $700 per vehicle — steep considering Afghan citizens make an average of $690 per year. Low average income among citizens, lack of infrastructure and other factors led to a net loss of $31 million on the Sheberghan gas station.

In response to questions about the gas station from SIGAR, the State Department said it had no expertise to answer inquiries about the Task Force that funded the station because the Task Force stopped operating in March.