Published on Thursday, 17 January 2013 20:06
Natural gas exploration project seen in Maday Island of Kyaunkpyu on December 2012
Local communities and experts are becoming increasingly concerned about what they describe as a lack of preparation for accidents along the controversial pipeline that will transport gas from Rakhine State to China.
The controversial Shwe Gas Line Project comprises two 800-kilometre pipelines, one for natural gas and the other for crude oil, which will run alongside each other from the coastal township of Kyaunkphyu in the northwestern state through Mandalay Region and Shan State before entering China’s Yunnan province.
The project has been heavily criticised by environmental groups and local residents who say it has already damaged the environment and livelihoods. The lack of public information on contingency plans for accidents is sparking a rising sense of alarm, they say.
The project is a joint venture project between China National Petroleum Corporation’s South East Asia Pipeline Co. Ltd. and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, with the former holding 50.9 percent of the project and MOGE holding the rest.
Under the deal, Myanmar will receive US$6.09 million in royalties a year for the pipeline as well as US$1 for each barrel of crude oil it transports, according to energy minister Than Htay. The pipeline is expected to transport 22 million barrels of crude oil each year.
Tun Lwin, coordinator of the Kyaukpyu Social Network Group, said such royalties are more than 20-fold lower than those China pays African and Middle Eastern countries for oil and gas.
Local residents are deeply concerned about possible oil spills, pipeline ruptures and other environmental impacts, said Tun Lwin.
Win Aung, a member of the Thai-based Shwe Gas Movement, said that people living along the pipeline’s route had not received compensation for farmland lost to the pipeline or the loss of livelihood. Environmental and social impact assessments are being flouted, Win Aung added.
Tun Lwin said people living along the route of the pipeline are demanding that the project be suspended until compensation rates have been reviewed, and the EIA and SIA are made public. They also want the name of the company that conducted the assessments to be made public, he said.
Only 0.013 percent of the project’s cost had been set aside to compensate those affected by it, he added.
The pipeline will pass through 21 townships. Environmentalists say that such a pipeline should be placed at a depth of 5 meters, but that it is being placed just 1.2 meters below ground to cut costs.
CNPC project manager Cheng Huan Lai said that 1.2 meters was sufficient.
Siddharth Vikram Singh, manager of Indian Punj Lioyd Co., which is constructing the pipeline, said that his company was following instructions from the energy ministry and CNPC.
These instructions fall far short of international standards, Win Aung said.
Residents in seven townships in Magwe Region have said they have yet to receive compensation for lost farmland and damage to crops due to pipeline construction.
Cheng Huan Lai admitted that coral reefs had been blasted to build the pipeline but said there had been no environmental damage during the explosions.
Residents of fishing communities, however, say damage to coral reefs and other aquatic life is observable.
Speaking on condition of anonymity a member of National Economic and Social Advisory Council said: “Most [infrastructure] projects in the country lack of transparency, and people are objecting to them. Therefore, such projects should be suspended and resumed after they have been made transparent.”
Cheng Huan Lai insisted that the project was adhering to “international norms” and said the company was hoping “to avoid public protest as in Myitsone dam project”.
Dr. U Myint, leader of the President’s Economic Advisory Council, said that because so much of the country’s natural resources were being exploited it was essential to examine whether the revenues were properly used for country’s development.
Cheng Huan Lai insisted that the project was adhering to “international norms” and said the company was hoping “to avoid public protest as in Myitsone dam project”, referring to the controversial project in Kachin State that was suspended following protests in 2011.
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