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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Oil industry observers cheer first public release of EIA

Oil industry observers cheer first public release of EIA

A major Chinese oil company will begin exploratory drilling this month in Cambodia’s offshore oil fields, according to an environmental report on the project, the first of its kind seen by the public.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which was granted a concession in 2006 in offshore Block F, will drill one exploratory well 37 kilometres south of Sihanoukville, according to an environment impact assessment completed in July.

Industry observers have lauded the public’s access to the EIA as a new level of openness and transparency in the Kingdom’s fledging oil industry. However, they also took issue with the Ministry of Environment for releasing the report last week despite having it since July.

“It’s fantastic because the EIA has been done before exploration and it has involved stakeholders in three provinces,” Extractive Industries Social and Environmental Impact chairman Mam Sambath said, referring to the engagement of locals in the region.

Information regarding the legally required assessments, and the extent of exploratory drilling, have been scant in the past two years, Mam Sambath said. CNOOC, China’s third-largest state-owned oil firm, is setting a good example for the industry, he said, adding that disclosure of the oil firm’s payments to the government would be the next step in a transparent process. Still, he said his organisation will turn down an invitation to an inter-ministerial meeting on the CNOOC concession held today, as the public was issued the 280-page report only two working days in advance.

“We appreciate the openness of this EIA process, but the report should be sent to NGOs at least one week before the meeting,” Mam Sambath said, saying the organisation needs more time to confirm the accuracy of the report. Environmental impact assessments have been conducted in Blocks A and B and submitted to the Ministry of Environment, an industry expert, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said yesterday.

The reports, however, have not been available to the public in the past. Public access to the report demonstrates an adoption of international standards, the source said.

“This demonstrates better practice and more open practice,” the source said.

Chevron, Total, ConocoPhillips and Japan’s Idemitsu Kosan have concessions in Cambodia’s Block A oil field, while Thailand’s PTT has a concession in Block B. Representatives from Chevron and CNOOC were not immediately available for comment yesterday.

CNOOC attracted Western media attention in 2005 when the company offered US$18.5 billion in cash for the United States’ Unocal Corporation. However, the deal fell through in the face of scrutiny from the US Congress.

The company, listed on both the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges, was also unfavourably thrust into the spotlight of the Chinese media in June and July, after an oil spill in northern China and a refinery explosion in the southern province of Guangdong.

Cambodia’s oil fields in the Gulf of Thailand drew attention last month when Thailand's newly elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra met with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh to discuss, among other topics, the Overlapping Claims Area.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul has since announced he will resubmit a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in 2001 to Yingluck’s cabinet on October 18, the Post previously reported.

Cambodia’s Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan has called the move an integral step in the demarcation of the disputed waters.

The Cambodian National Petroleum Authority yesterday declined a request for comment.

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