Isan activists accuse Thai junta of siding with gas corporation

An environmental conservation group in Isan, Thailand’s Northeast, says that the Thai junta are siding with an oil and gas corporation to plunder resources and urges the US government to take action against the multinational petroleum company.

Na Mun-Dun Sat Conservation Group, an Isan environmental group, on Tuesday morning, 12 October 2015, rallied in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok and submitted a letter to embassy staff, urging the US government to hold Apico (Khorat) Limited, a US-based oil and gas exploration company, accountable.

The group pointed out in the statement that since the 2014 coup d’état, the junta has made it easier for the company carry out its operations.

“Since the coup on 22 May 2014, public agencies have been giving many advantages to Apico (Khorat) Company to carry out drilling, which has occurred at a much faster pace” said the group’s statement. “This is against many principles of Thai law.”

Since last year, the group has been campaigning against controversial drilling in a potential field called Dongmun located in Kranuan District of the northeastern province of Khon Kaen at the border with Kalasin Province.

The local activists claim that the manner in which the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out prior to the drilling was substandard because the locals who are to be affected by the project were not involved in the process.

They claimed that drilling in the area damages rubber plantations and the villagers’ heath.

Na Mun-Dun Sat Conservation Group rallying in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok on 13 October 2015

Earlier on Monday, the group went the Ministry of Energy, demanding that the Ministry to stop Apico running ongoing tests on the petroleum resources.

Wisarut Tangsunthornkan, a petroleum expert of the Ministry, said that the Ministry will carry out an investigation on the issue, but the Ministry will not halt the test drilling which, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) has permitted in the EIA.

Na Mun-Dun Sat activists, however, held that the EIA did not state that the company could carry out a second set of tests on the Dongmun field.

Wisarut however told the activists that the company could run tests on the field as often as they deemed appropriate.

On the same day, the group also held discussions with ONEP officials, during which Damrong Kruepaiboongul, Director of the Energy Section of ONEP, said “it is impossible for there to be no effects on development projects at all, but the effects must be on an acceptable scale.”

He added that it is not within the authority of ONEP to stop the test drilling because the agency had already approved the EIA on drilling operations. However, the Director told the village activists that they can conduct another EIA on the project to verify claims about the environmental effects upon local communities and submit it to the Department of Mineral Fuels (DMF).

In February 2015, oil and gas exploration in Kalasin and Khon Kaen provinces hit the national headlines after about 40 armed police and military officers assisted Apico Company to move drilling equipment into Kranuan District of Khon Kaen.

Earlier in January 2015, villagers collected signatures and submitted a petition to Khon Kaen Administrative Court in an attempt to stop the drilling operations. Although the court has not yet reached a verdict, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently issued a statement calling for the project to be temporarily halted.

However, police and military officers from Khon Kaen Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) claim that the DMF has already permitted the company to explore the field.