The Tonle Sap is the new frontier for oil exploration, and drilling could begin
there in just five years, said Te Duong Tara, director-general of the Cambodian
National Petroleum Authority (CNPA).
Duong Tara said that two deep basins
have been located in the Tonle Sap region. One is under the temples at Angkor,
so will likely never be touched. The other is in the western part of the Tonle
"We have now found more [opportunities for] prospecting than
before, but we need to move cautiously," said Duong Tara. "The Tonle Sap is the
heart of Cambodia, so we have to take much care."
The fish-rich Tonle Sap
is the source of 70 percent of the Kingdom's protein; annual flooding makes the
surrounding land highly fertile.
The next step in data gathering is
seismic testing, which involves detonating explosives inside shallow holes to
measure the echoes. Exploration wells will be drilled where findings are
To reduce the impact on the environment, CNPA will focus
exploration along national road 5 from Kampong Chhnang through Pursat to
Battambang, home to rice fields and small forests, said Duong
However, talk of drilling for oil in the Tonle Sap catchment area
has environmental groups worried. They are concerned that any petroleum
exploration could do great harm.
"Of course poor disposal or leakage
would be detrimental to biodiversity," said Kosal Mam, program coordinator for
He said that since it is a tropical area, a
rainstorm could quickly result in oil draining into the lake, and "in Cambodia
there's no contingency plan to respond to such an incident".
Cambodian government and CNPA hope to revolutionize the country's petroleum
industry, starting with the March 20 concession to ChevronTexaco and Mitsui Oil
to drill in Block A in the Gulf of Thailand.
When asked about
opportunities in the Tonle Sap, Chevron Texaco's government relations and public
affairs manager, Rattikan Chaiwanit, said: "At the moment we are focusing on
Block A, but we are very interested in exploring in the future."
estimates that there are three to five trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas
in Block A. One Tcf can run a 1,000 Megawatt power plant for at least 20 years.
There are not yet any estimates on the amount of oil and
ChevronTexaco will be the first international oil company to
drill in the Kingdom since 1998. Although previous attempts by others such as
Enterprise and Campex have found oil in the 6,000 square kilometer area, costs
were deemed too high to start production. New technology and ChevronTexaco's
large presence in the Gulf should make the venture profitable.
come with production, said Duong Tara, so the country has not yet received
payment from ChevronTexaco. At least two test wells will be drilled in 2002, and
if results are positive, the company will continue drilling in Block
"It will be a number of years before oil is produced from Block A,"
said Chevron Texaco's Chaiwanit.
CNPA believes a local oil and gas
industry is essential for the country's development. Cambodia consumes 50-70,000
tons of imported petroleum products a month. As a result, power is about three
times more expensive than in Vietnam and Thailand, with smuggling
"Energy is very expensive in Cambodia," said Duong Tara. "The
government talks about poverty alleviation and economic growth, but without
energy, you cannot [achieve that]."