Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Activists demand gas for Arakan electricity


Tuesday, 17 January 2012 17:12 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – People in two townships in Arakan State are protesting, calling for the Burmese government to supply more gas to the region as a fuel to provide more electricity to the state which lacks sufficient electrical power.

Activists delivered an open letter to the Arakan state minister on Monday with the demand, said a statement by the Shwe Gas Movement, an activist group based in Thailand.

Last week, the Minister of Energy claimed it would make an agreement with firms to supply the gas for the region, but local activists are skeptical because of unfulfilled promises and the destructive impact the gas pipeline project has already had on local communities.

“The military government is trying to convince Arakan people that they will benefit from this project with construction jobs or a small share of revenue,” said Wong Aung of the Shwe Gas Movement. “The demand for 24-hour electricity before any export [of gas] shows that the Arakan people are not going to be bought off so cheaply.”

Currently, Burma’s new government is set to continue with a contract signed by the previous military junta to export 9.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas extracted from the Shwe gas fields to China.

“When it emerged that 90 per cent of the electricity produced by the Myitsone Dam would be sent to China, Burmese people rallied against the project due to severe energy shortages at home. The same anger is growing against the Shwe Gas Pipeline project,” the statement said.

Burma does not have an enforceable democratic legal structure to ensure revenue transparency and contract accountability or to ensure that its citizens receive tangible benefits from foreign investments in the extractive sector.

“At the moment there is only one way to ensure local people see real benefits and that is to allocate 100 per cent of the Shwe gas towards meeting domestic energy needs,” said Wong Aung.

Burma ranks 10th in the world in terms of natural gas reserves yet its per capita electricity consumption is less than 5 per cent of neighbouring Thailand and China, because the government exports most of its energy.

The Thailand-based Shwe Gas Movement has called for the Burmese government to suspend the Shwe natural gas project in Arakan State.

“Exporting the huge natural gas reserves from the Shwe Gas fields off Burma’s western coast will perpetuate the chronic energy shortages domestically,” it said in a statement in October, reported in Mizzima.

“The regime will earn an estimated US$ 29 billion from the sale of the gas, yet these revenues will not be used for social improvement. The revenues will disappear into a fiscal black hole that omits gas revenues from the national budget, clearly to the benefit of the regime and investors,” the statement said.

An underwater gas pipeline would carry offshore gas from block A1 and A3 to Kyaukphyu. About 40 per cent of the project is completed and the deep-sea port at Maday Island is about 80 per cent completed, according to the Shwe Gas Movement.

Gas reserves in the two blocks are estimated at 4.5 to 7.7 trillion cubic feet. Burma will earn an estimated US$ 29 billion from the sale of the natural gas to China over a 30-year period starting in 2013, say government officials.

The deep-sea port project and the joint pipeline for oil and natural gas will be completed in 2013. An electric railway for transporting goods is expected to be completed in 2015.

The offshore blocks in the Shwe Gas field, the biggest natural gas field in Southeast Asia, has an estimated 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas. The gas blocks in the western sea of Burma was discovered in late 2003. The cost of the gas pipeline linking Kyaukphyu and the Maday Island deep-sea port to Yunnan Province in China is estimated at US$ 3.5 billion.

In addition to the natural gas pipeline, an oil pipeline will be built to transport oil from Africa and the Middle East to China through the Kyaukphyu-Maday port passing along a route running through Minbu, Mandalay, Gokteik, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Lashio, Kutkai, Muse and Kyuhkok. The oil will then be transported to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province.

For more information, contact global@shwe.org

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