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Yadana pipeline rout starts controv

Subject: Yadana pipeline rout starts controvery, from Watershed

People's Forum on Ecology
Vol. 2 No 2
November 1996- February 1997
(For more information, contact TERRA at <terraper@xxxxxxxxxx>)

Feature Article--

Thailand's Yadana pipeline:
Proposed route starts controversy

The on-going international controversy over the Yadana gas pipeline project
in Burma focuses on forced labour, evictions of communities, and other human
rights abuses by Burma's military regime in the implementation of the
project. On Thailand's side of the border, the pipeline route will cut
through one of the largest protected forest ecosystems in mainland Southeast
Noel Rajesh examines some of the critical issues involving the planned
pipeline in Thailand

The 670 km pipeline to send natural gas from the Yadana fields in offshore
Burma to fuel electricity plants in Thailand has faced opposition both
inside Burma and internationally, making it one of the world's most
controversial infrastructure projects. Since construction began in early
1995 in Burma, international human rights groups have demanded that the two
oil companies -- Total of France and Unocal of USA -- pull out of the
project on the grounds that revenue from the gas will strengthen the State
Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Burma's repressive military
regime. (See box: The Yadana Fields: gas at any cost.) 

As construction of the Yadana pipeline in Burma continues, the Thai side of
the pipeline undertaken by the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) is
stalled by concerns that the pipeline will destroy large tracts of
undisturbed forest ecosystem in western Thailand. The US $676 million Thai
section of the Yadana pipeline stretches 297 kilometres (km) from where the
pipeline enters Thai territory at Ban I - Tong village, Kanchanaburi
province, and would run southeast to feed a 4,600 megawatt (MW) power plant
being built by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in
Ratchaburi province. 
Gas delivery is scheduled to begin on 1 July 1998, with an initial volume of
141 million cubic feet per day (mf3/d) and increasing to 525 mf3/d 14 months
later. Upon its completion in 2001, the 4,600 MW natural gas - fueled
generating station at Ratchaburi would account for more than 20 per cent of
EGAT's forecast electricity demand of 21,990 MW. According to the 30-year
gas supply agreement signed in 1995 between MOGE and PTT, Thailand will pay
between US$200 400 million per year to SLORC. 

In early 1996, a consortium of Canada's Nova Gas and OGP Technical Services
of Malaysia received the US$19.2 million pipeline engineering contract for
the Thai part of the pipeline from PTT. In the competition to win the
contract to construct the pipeline, the German company, Manessman, has
proposed the lowest construction price, and is expected to complete contract
negotiations with PTT in November 1996. 

EIA rejected

In May 1996, the Experts Committee of Thailand's National Environment Board
(NEB) rejected the project's environmental impact assessment (EIA) citing
inadequate information on the potential impacts on wildlife. Final approval
of the project by the Thai Cabinet must wait until it is passed by the
National Environment Board. 

The pipeline route will cut a 20- 80 metre - wide route through 26 km of
Thailand's western forest ecosystem, which covers an area of about 600,000
hectares contiguous with forests across the border in Burma. The western
forest complex forms one of the largest protected area in mainland southeast
Asia comprising 14 Protected Areas of which the Thung Yai Naresuan-Huai Kha
Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary complex is an internationally recognized site
accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. 

The project area will cut across the Thong Pha Phum forest area, which is in
the process of being designated a National Park by the Thai government.
According to the EIA document, the Thong Pha Phum forest area "is located in
the centre of other protected areas such as the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife
Sanctuary, Khao Laem National Park, Sai Yok National Park."
The western forest complex supports 120 species of land mammals, 45 per cent
of Thailand's total, and 33 per cent of mainland Southeast Asia's total
known species. Forty five mammal species are classified threatened in
Thailand (53 per cent of the country's total), and at least 15 are
internationally classified as threatened including tiger, clouded leopard,
guar, banteng, wild water buffalo, and elephant. The forest area is home to
nine endangered mammal species including white-handed gibbons, Malayan
tapirs, elephants and tigers. In terms of insects, the western forest
complex is regarded as the richest in terms of species diversity in mainland
Southeast Asia. 

The EIA study required for the project was completed by TEAM Engineering
Consultants for the PTT in January 1996. In Thailand, TEAM has a history of
producing EIAs that do not study the most serious potential environmental
impacts of large-scale infrastructure products. In May 1996, the Committee
of Experts established by the National Environment Board (NEB) to review's
TEAM's EIA for the pipeline refused to approve the EIA for consideration by
the NEB and instructed the PTT to work with the Royal Forestry Department to
further study the pipeline's potential impacts on forest ecology and
wildlife in the project area. 

As the project area is located inside an area of international conservation
importance, TEAM's assessment of the potential impacts of the pipeline has
drawn criticism from various academics and government officials. Wildlife
experts within Thailand's Royal Forestry Department (RFD) are skeptical of
the EIA's information as well as its survey methods for evaluating the
ecological impacts. 

According to an independent biologist working in the RFD, the EIA by the
TEAM consultants is based on inaccurate information and contains sweeping
statements and theories, "TEAM's conclusions regarding a species presence or
its relative abundance in the vicinity of the project site are unfounded. 

"Without any information regarding the sampling effort undertaken, broad
conclusions regarding species cannot be made, nor can independent reviewers
determine whether TEAM's evaluation is reliable. For example, Section 3.143
suggests that the Red Data Book species, and WARPA 'Reserved Status'
species, Malayan Tapir and Fea's Muntjac do not occur in the immediate
vicinity of the project site, whereas they are recorded for the Thong Pha
Phum National Park.1 

"Without extensive and further sampling, it is impossible to state with such
assurance that important wildlife species do not occur within the project
site, simply because TEAM did not observe them on their limited survey. It
is likely that the project will not only have immediate effect upon flora
and fauna in the immediate vicinity of the project but will also affect
wildlife in the surrounding areas."
Meanwhile, Thailand's RFD is expressing concerns about the route of the
pipeline through forest areas classified as 'watershed 1 A' zones (the
highest conservation rating for watersheds) and protected areas including
the Sai Yok National Park. The RFD has demanded a technical hearing of
concerned parties about the impacts of the pipeline on important wildlife
species in the area. In response to the concerns, the NEB assigned the RFD
to implement an additional study on the wildlife completed in October 1996.
Meanwhile, the PTT plans to arrange a technical hearing in Kanchanaburi in
November, to listen to the concerns of various conservation groups about the
project's environmental impacts. However, PTT's Public Relations Director,
when announcing plans for the technical hearing, limited the options
available on the re-routing of the pipeline, saying "The PTT is trying to
divert the pipeline away from the fertile forest areas and national parks as
much as possible. We chose the most suitable route for the pipeline and it
will never be changed."
PTT's pipeline project director, Somphong Tantivanichakul, has tried to
dismiss environmental concerns by stating that the pipeline would be built
underground so as to not permanently disturb the forest. However, it is
highly questionable whether the construction of an underground pipeline can
avoid destroying large areas of undisturbed forest. 

Bat caves

Particular concern centres on the pipeline's impacts on the area's limestone
hills that are the world's only known natural habitat for the rare Kitti's
Hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai), the world's smallest mammal
weighing only two grammes fully grown and classified as "protected" under
According to the EIA, the distinctive limestone wildlife habitat lies about
500 metres north of the pipeline route. The EIA states that: "The pipeline
would not adversely affect the hog-nosed bat since [they] are believed to
keep confined to the Sai Yok National Park because its foraging distance is
well within the radius of one kilometre around the preferred cave.
Furthermore, this tiny bat needs the cave with constant temperatures and at
a certain level of moisture to roost only, so their movement out of the Sai
Yok area to colonize in the Thona Pha Phum area seems unlikely to occur." 

Surapol Duangkhae of Wildlife Fund Thailand (WFT) has researched the ecology
and behaviour of the hog-nosed bat. He dismisses the EIA's claims that the
pipeline would not adversely affect the bat's limestone cave habitat.
According to Suraphol: "The EIA does not provide sufficient information to
clearly assess the impacts of the pipeline on this habitat and its endemic
species. The pipeline will cut across the limestone range that runs from
north to south that is the unique habitat for the hog-nosed bat. But the EIA
does not provide an in-depth study of the contiguous limestone caves and the
ecological behaviour of the bats, it merely lists the various species of
bats. Although the distribution of the hog-nosed bat is small, the viability
of the hog-nosed bat population will be threatened by the disturbance to its
limestone habitat caused by pipeline construction activities." 

Engineering projects in limestone areas are typically troubled by
uncertainty relating to their ecological impacts.  Of particular concern are
the ways in which construction can impact upon hydrology in these areas.  A
geologist working with the RFD says, "Construction of roads and forest
clearance can increase and concentrate surface run-off, exacerbating soil
erosion.  Apart from the usual problems of surface soil erosion, in karst
areas water sinks below ground and causes erosion of soil beneath the
surface.  The sediment is removed out of sight down fractures in the rock,
leaving cavities behind which may cause unexpected land collapse.  Karst
hydrology is never simple and lack of knowledge concerning this feature in
the area is acute.  By not even mentioning subsurface drainage, the EIA
fails to provide an accurate impact assessment.2

"Cave environments can be altered by sudden changes in water supply causing
disturbance of the stable conditions bats, such as the hog-nosed bat, require."

The caves which are the habitat of hog-nosed bat are known only in the dry
evergreen and semi-evergreen forests in the west of Thailand.  Moreover,
feeding caves of the hog-nosed bat are relatively small, within flying
distance of one kilometre from the cave.  These two conditions confine the
bat to caves in the vicinity of appropriate foraging habitats.  If its
specific caves and habitats are disturbed, it may be very difficult, if not
impossible, for the bat to find new roosts.

Shaky ground PTT's fault

The Tennaserim Range seismic zone has two major active faults: Si Sawat and
Three Pagodas Fault, leading to concerns about gas leakage, possibly
resulting in massive explosions, landslides and severe soil erosion from
building a pipeline in a known earthquake zone.  Almost the entire Thai
section of the pipeline is located practically on top of the Three Pagodas
Fault.  The Department of Meteorology recorded the epicentre of earthquakes
near the project area six times during 1983-1988 at Si Sawat and Thong Pha
Phum districts with magnitude of 4.1-4. 5 on the Richter Scale. 

The threat of earthquakes damaging or rupturing the pipeline is becoming
increasingly clear. In March 1959, a quake on the Three Pagoda's Fault
produced a 300 metre long, 2 metre wide and 1.5 metre deep ravine in the
ground. In April 1983, an earthquake measuring 5.8 points on the Richter
Scale, apparently occurring on the Si Sawat Fault, left a crack in the earth
more than 4 kilometres in length and moved entire blocks of rock in opposite

Landslides caused by earthquakes or erosion resulting from project
construction, while potentially damaging or breaching the pipeline, also
represent a major threat to the safety of village people living in the
vicinity of the project area, as well as damaging protected forest areas.
Once the pipeline enters Thailand, it will follow the route of an existing
dirt road running along a narrow earth ridge bordered on both sides by steep
ravines, and severe erosion is expected to occur. Officials from Thailand's
Office of Environmental Policy and Planning (OEPP) in the Science Ministry
have expressed concerns that the EIA report only gives a broad outline of
how to deal with the problems of erosion, landslides and what happens if
there is an earthquake. An OEPP official said: "It's not clear how the
pipeline will cross rivers and streams where sediment can wash down into
villages below." 

The PTT will present their revised EIA to the NEB in November, but the
specific dates for the technical hearings by the PTT and the Royal Forestry
Department are not known to the public. Sources within the National
Environment Board say that PTT officials are very worried about the previous
rejection of the project studies by the NEB's experts committee. As a
result, the PTT is putting intense pressure on senior officials in the NEB
to establish another Experts Committee with members sympathetic to the
pipeline project so as to ensure that the project can reach the NEB for
approval without further delay. 

More delays? 

A senior forestry official, who asked not to be named, said: "If the project
cuts through the Sai Yok National Park, the PTT will have to submit its
plans to the National Park Committee for consideration about its impact on
wildlife and the forest. The process may take several months, which would
delay the PTT's plans to start construction in November 1996." 

Expressing impatience at the delay, the PTT gas sector chief, Dr. Vichit
Yaboonruang said that the consequences could be "very uneconomical" for
Thailand. "If the government wants to have a hearing, it can have it, but it
will have to be done very fast." 

The PTT, having signed a contract with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Exploration
(MOGE) before the pipeline project had met the legal requirements of project
approval in Thailand, now finds itself in a difficult position. As Somphong
Tantivanichakul, the PTT's Director of Pipeline Project, explains, "If we
cannot meet the deadline to transfer gas from Burma to Thailand in 1998,
then the PTT will have to pay a 30 million baht (US$ 1.5 million) fine per
day to the Burmese government, and another 70 million baht (US$2.8 million)
a day to buy diesel oil to substitute the gas to be used at the power plant
in Ratchaburi."

The Petroleum Authority of Thailand signed the gas pipeline contract with
the SLORC dictatorship in Burma more than one year before completing an
environmental impact assessment for the proposed pipeline project or
fulfilling the legal requirements of the project approval process
established by the Thai government. Now, the PTT is complaining about the
money it must pay to SLORC if construction of the pipeline is delayed for a
single day, while a growing number of nature conservation organizations,
independent academics, and senior officials in the Royal Forestry Department
are voicing concerns about the impacts of the proposed pipeline on one of
the most important protected forest ecosystems in mainland Southeast Asia.
- Duangkhae, Surapon, "Ecology and Behaviour of Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat
(Craseonycteris Thonglongyai) in Western Thailand," in Natural History
Bulletin of the Siam Society, Vol.38, The Siam Society: Bangkok, 1990. 
- Earth Rights International (ERI) and Southeast Asian Information Network
(SAIN), Total Denial: A Report on the Yadana Pipeline Project in Burma,
July, 1996. 
- Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University, Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife
Sanctuary Management Plan, 1989. 
- Nutalai, Prinya, "Earthquakes and the Nan, Choan Darn," in The Ecologist,
Vol.17, No.6, November/December 1987. 
- TEAM Consulting Engineers Co., Environmental Impact Assessment of natural
gas pipeline project  Yadana field to Ratchaburi, Draft Final Report.
January 1996. 

1. Red Data Book - an internationally recognized compendium of the world's
endangered and threatened species, published by the World Conservation
Monitoring Centre and the World Conservation Union (IUCN); Also note: WARPA
- Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act, (Thailand, 1992). 
2. The term karst describes "a distinctive style of terrain that is
characterised by individual landform types and landform assemblages that in
large measure are the product of rock material having been dissolved by
natural waters to a greater degree than is the norm in most landscapes."
Source: The CNPPA Working Group on Cave and Karst Protection, IUCN
Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, Guidelines for Cave and
Karst Protection, 1st Draft. October 1995. 

Pipeline "a serious threat to the survival of wildlife"

On 3 May 1996, Mr. Montree Sanitprachakorn, Director of the Land and Forest
Resource Section, Royal Forestry Department, sent a letter entitled Report
to the Experts Committee for Considering EIA Reports for Infrastructure
Projects, the committee evaluating the Yadana pipeline project EIA. The
following are excerpts from Mr. Montree's letter to the Experts Committee. 

"The forests in the vicinity of the project are watershed 1A and 1B, areas
within the Thong Pha Phum National Park, and it is predicted that the
pipeline route will be in Sai Yok National Park, which should be conserved
for the benefit of the people and according to the policy of the government. 

The vicinity of the pipeline is an area with a high level of biological
diversity...including nine endangered species ... and the 'rare species'
Kitti's hog-nosed bat.... Further surveys would definitely indicate more
species of [endangered] wildlife. 

The impact from the road [that would be built for construction of the
pipeline] will be the separation of the forest into two separate areas,
disturbing the migration of forest animals. In the long term, this would be
a serious threat to the survival of wildlife. 

Construction of the road will have impacts on forest animals. During the dry
season, there is a reduction in the number of water sources available to
forest animals. Construction work during the dry season, and the location of
construction workers' camps very near to water sources, will prevent forest
animals from access to drinking water. Hunting and forest fires will be

Studies of the impact of the pipeline on wildlife in the area will require a
long period of time, as animals in the area are highly migratory, covering
large areas of forest, not only the specific area of the pipeline. 

The RFD will require an increased number of vehicles to patrol the area to
control hunting, but this will not be a solution to the pipeline's impacts
on wildlife. 

Therefore, a sincere assessment of the environmental impacts of the pipeline
project is required, considering not only economic benefits, which must not
forget the importance with which the world views the environment. 

A technical hearing involving all concerned parties, including the
government officials, NGOs, academics and local groups, is required for the
expression of opinions and to determine the best conclusion." 

 - - - - - -

The Yadana Fields: gas at any cost

Located in the Andaman Sea about 60 kilometres off the southern coast of
Burma, Yadana is Burma's largest known off-shore gas field with confirmed
recoverable gas reserves of 5.7 trillion cubic feet (tf3). 

The Total Company of France has a 31.24 per cent share in the project, with
the US-based Unocal holding 28.26 per cent, PTT Explorations and Production
Plc of Thailand (PITEP, a subsidiary of PTT) 25.5 percent, and the Burma's
State-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Exploration (MOGE) a 15 per cent share. The
US$400 million per year gas deal with Thailand is estimated to be the
largest source of foreign capital for the Burmese military regime, the State
Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). 

The onshore pipeline is planned to be laid during the dry seasons of October
1996 - April 1997, offshore platforms installed from mid-1997 to early 1998,
and gas delivery to Thailand to begin in July 1998. About 370 km of pipeline
will be underwater while the last 45 km will traverse the Tennaserim region,
home to ethnic communities such as the Karen and Mon. 

According to members of communities in the project area, about 10,000 people
have already been forcibly evicted from the proposed pipeline route in
Burma. Village people, including children, are being compelled by armed
soldiers to build the project's operational infrastructure as well as new
military camps. Forced labour is also being used to complete the railroad
from the town of Ye in Mon State to the town of Tavoy, allegedly for
transport of SLORC army troops to protect the 65 km of pipeline route in
Burma's southwestern region from attacks by ethnic insurgent groups. 

In late 1994, SLORC launched "Operation Natmin" (Spirit King) to destroy Mon
and other rebel forces and secure the pipeline route. However, the safety of
the pipeline is still in doubt. In March, 1995, three foreign members of a
petroleum exploration team were killed, along with 10 soldiers of the
Tatmadaw's (Burmese Army) 410 Light Infantry Battalion, who were escorting
the foreigners, at Kanbuak, near the western end of the pipeline. The
firefight appears to have been unintended, the result of the SLORC battalion
and ethnic rebel troops discovering the proximity of their over-night camps
when cooking fires were lit in the evening. 

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has openly welcomed
SLORC's efforts to build the pipeline at any cost. In April 1995, a
half-page EGAT advertisement in the Bangkok Post informed readers that, "The
Myanmar government aims to complete its part of the gas pipeline system by
1996. The pipeline will pass through Karen villages in Laydozoo District,
Mergui-Tavoy province and in Mon villages, Ye-Tawai province. Myanmar has
recently cleared the way by relocating a total of 11 Karen villages that
would otherwise obstruct the passage of the gas resource development project." 

Total and Unocal have dismissed mounting evidence, and denied repeated
accusations, that forced labour and relocation of villagers is occurring as
a direct result of the pipeline project. Total's Operations Manager in
Burma, Jean-Claude Ragot maintained that the presence of the companies is
good for Burma: "We've done everything we can to make sure the people in the
region have benefited from the project. And people seem very happy with how
they've been treated." 

In October, Burmese civilians victimized by rape and forced labour in the
pipeline project area, along with the National Coalition Government of the
Union of Burma, recently filed lawsuits against Unocal, Total, MOGE, and
SLORC in a Los Angeles, California district court. The civilians charge that
the companies and their corporate officers are violating human rights in the
route preparation and construction of the natural gas pipeline project,
specifically accusing the companies of benefiting from the use of forced
labour and systematic destruction of village communities in the
implementation of the project. 

(Noel Rajesh is a staff member of TERRA, and is researching forest and land
use issues.)