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Burma’s ministry of energy claims that the country has reserves of some 89.722 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, domestic news reported, contrasting greatly with outside estimates that put the figure much lower.
Burma’s statistics under military rule are notorious for their lack of reliability – the recent figures from the energy ministry would mean that Burma has more natural gas reserves than the entire European Union. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) thinks however that the proven reserves are closer to 10 trillion cubic feet.
Gas and oil reserve figures are often a highly sensitive area of state apparatus, and are kept a secret in major producer nations such as Saudi Arabia.
The latest “data”, which was reported in the Weekly Eleven news journal, comes hot on the heels of a new decree announced this month that gives Burma’s president supreme authority over natural resource exploration and mining.
Natural gas exploration and sales in particular should have a massive impact on the public purse and subsequent wealth of the nation.
The IMF has noted that gas revenue has a “small fiscal impact” in Burma as a result of the misappropriation of funds, only accounting for around one percent of earnings when in fact it could have, or indeed should have, accounted for an enormous 57 percent.
If Burma does indeed have nearly 90 trillion cubic feet of reserves, this figure would amount to a huge rise in the revenues of the country’s most valuable legal exports, particularly if the reserves are exploited by the multitude of foreign companies queuing up to do so.
The EIA estimates that Burma exported roughly 300 billion cubic feet in the years 2008 and 2009. This figure will likely double when the trans-Burma Shwe gas pipeline comes online in 2013, delivering oil and gas to southwestern China.
According to the Steel Business Briefing, the dual pipeline will have a capacity of over 400 billion cubic feet annually. If these figures are even remotely believable, then there could be a surge in interest from international buyers and a subsequent surge in exports, albeit short-lived if the figures turn out to be false.
This assertion however contrasts with statements previously made by former Burmese energy minister Lun Thi, who in 2008 reportedly stated that the country did not have enough gas to supply neighbouring Bangladesh.
President Thein Sein’s authority over the gas sector will, according to economic analyst Aung Thu Nyein, include the ploughing of gas revenues into a “fund to protect state security” which will likely be immune to public or parliamentary scrutiny.