Burma to 'double output' of gas by 2020

Nov 19, 2009 (DVB), Burma is to double its output of natural gas in the next 10 years, the country's sole operator of oil and gas production told a regional trade fair in Bangkok yesterday.

Energy experts believe Burma's offshore Bay of Bengal gas fields could house Southeast Asia's largest gas reserves, much of which is now being pumped to neighbouring countries.

The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) yesterday told an annual ASEAN Council on Petroleum (ASCOPE) trade fair that the country would seek to significantly boost output over the coming decade.

The regional ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) bloc is comprised of Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

As well as MOGE, the little known Best Luck Co. Ltd was in attendance at ASCOPE, along with a host of international outfits, many of whom have operations or dealings with Burma.

The projected increase in gas output will be largely down to the inception of the Shwe gas pipeline project, being overseen by South Korean company, Daewoo International, as well as the Zawtika pipeline run by Thailand's PTTEP petroleum company.

The Shwe gas pipeline has come under heavy criticism from both environmental and human rights groups.

Critics view it as the appropriation of the country's resources by the military, who are then siphoning it to Burma's energy-hungry neighbours.

"The management system is completely wrong," said Wong Aung, of the anti-pipeline Shwe Gas Campaign. "They are trying to extract and export everything we have".

The pipelines are also blamed for destroying livelihoods in fragile tribal communities heavily dependent on the natural ecosystems that construction of the pipeline is believed to be jeopardising.

The biggest criticism however is reserved for the apparent misappropriation by Burma's military government of the vast funds that can be made from gas revenues.

"It will have no benefit for the Burmese people, these revenues will only heighten the regional security threat posed by the Burmese military regime," said Wong Aung.

Despite the extraction of gas and oil, the living standards of the average Burmese person has shown little sign of improvement.

The ruling junta was in September accused by advocacy group EarthRights International of stashing the revenue from sales of natural energy in Singaporean banks, and using irregularities between official and unofficial exchange rates to hide income.

Despite such criticisms, the government continues to be accused of channeling some 40 percent of its annual budget into the military, which has seen a massive increase in size and sophistication over the past decade.

There has long been debate about foreign investment in military-ruled Burma, with the fossil fuel industry being the most controversial.

Several western companies, including French company TOTAL and America's Chevron, have continued operations in the country, despite heavy criticism and pressure from activists that even resulted in a court case brought against Chevron in the 1990's.

The launch of the trade fair yesterday coincided with a report released by anti-corruption group, Transparency International, which ranked Burma 178 out 180 countries in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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