Last week, the Thai state-owned energy company PTTEP signed a deal to purchase gas from Burma’s offshore Zawtika gas field, setting the stage for a third source of Burmese gas to Thailand, in addition to the controversial Yadana and Yetagun pipelines.
My colleagues and I have repeatedly documented forced labor, killings, and other abuses in the Yadana pipeline region, and shown that these abuses are directly linked to the oil companies operating the project, including PTTEP. More recently, we’ve also documented the massive revenues going to the Burmese regime from the project, with the junta secretly depositing up to US $4.6 billion since 1998 in offshore bank accounts.
PTTEP’s new deal will require a new pipeline, expected to be operational by 2013. We’ve already documented the company’s activity in the remote ethnic areas of the proposed pipeline in Burma, and we’re concerned. What will PTTEP do different this time around? We have no evidence suggesting the company is conducting a proper human rights impact assessment, and if they’ve conducted an environmental impact assessment (EIA), they haven’t published it, and that’s a problem. Pipelines within Thailand require EIAs. Will PTTEP voluntarily extend that into Burma, according to best practice, or simply capitalize off Burma’s weak regulations to save a buck?
The timing of this deal raises questions, too. The Burmese regime now has its sights set on developing nukes. Thailand is the country that stands to lose the most from the risks posed by a nuclear capable Burma, yet it’s
gearing up to line the pockets of the regime with even more gas dollars. Thailand wants gas to expand its economy, but could it be so shortsighted as to dismiss the impacts of multi-billion dollar revenues in Burma?
I hope PTTEP will at least follow our recommendations for the Yadana project, including mitigating human rights and environmental impacts, and combating corruption by practicing revenue transparency on the Zawtika project by disclosing their payments to the Burmese junta. This is regardless of whether the company will be covered by a groundbreaking new law EarthRights International just helped pass, requiring all oil companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose payments they make to governments where they operate. The extent to which PTTEP will be required to disclose its payments to the Burmese junta under the new US law remains to be seen, but that shouldn’t affect whether they practice complete revenue transparency in the military-ruled country. It’s a minimum element of corporate responsibility, legally required or not.