Friday, June 17, 2011

Citizens Protest Against Uneven Deal With Foreign Oil Companies

A citizens' platform has called upon the government to scrap the deal with US firm ConocoPhillips and engage state-run agencies in the exploration of gas and oil in the Bay of Bengal, instead.    At a protest rally, before laying siege to the energy ministry on Tuesday morning, member secretary of the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Prof Anu Muhammad said Bangladesh should not lose its ownership of the deep-sea blocks.    He demanded measures for strengthening Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company (Bapex) and Petrobangla with necessary investment, machinery and manpower.    Anu Muhammad said ConocoPhillips will get 80 per cent of the gas extracted with the permission to export it and Bangladesh will get the remaining 20 per cent, according to the production sharing contract. 'We will lose the ownership of the gas extracted if the deal is signed. We call on the government not to sign the unequal deal,' Anu said.    The committee's convener Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah at the rally said that the government is set to sign the deal on June 16 with ConocoPhillips for the extraction of gas in offshore block 10 and 11. The national committee will hold countrywide black flag processions on the day the deal would be signed and hold a black flag rally in front of the Press Club, Shaheedullah said.    He also called on the people to hoist black flags in houses on the day across the country and the national committee would announce agitation programmes, including general strike and a march towards Dhaka in October, if the government does not drop its plan to lease out the offshore gas blocks.    Before setting out Tuesday's march, the national committee held a rally in front of the National Press Club where the committee's member secretary said that the deal with ConocoPhillips was against national interest.    The energy ministry has now turned into the 'Kasimbazar Palace' (where Mir Jafar hatched plots against Nawab Sirajuddaula) where conspiracies are being hatched against national interest in the power sector, he said.    Committee leaders Syed Abul Maksud, Akmal Hossain, Enamul Haque, Tipu Biswas, Nurur Rahman Selim, Saiful Huq, Ruhin Hossain Prince, Bazlur Rashid Firoz, Ragib Ahsan Munna, Mushrefa Mishu, Zonayed Saki, Subal Sarker and others took part in the programme.    The rally was also joined by the supporters from the ruling Awami League's ally Bangladesh Workers Party, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal and Revolutionary Workers Party of Bangladesh.    The procession of some 500 activists was intercepted at the Secretariat Link Road near the National Press Club around 12 : 15 pm. Protestors then argued and scuffled with police. They also staged a half-an- hour sit-in on the spot. Writer and anthropologist Ms. Rahnuma Ahmed and several protesters were injured during the clashes between the police and the protestors.    The Huston, Texas- based firm would be awarded hydrocarbon blocks 10 and 11 , part of which is disputed due to claims from India and Myanmar. Incidentally, ConocoPhillips won these blocks in 2008 , but could not sign the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with the state-run Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation, or Petrobangla as part of these blocks was also claimed by India and Myanmar. The agreement prohibits the American company from exploring the areas of the blocks claimed by Myanmar or India. ConocoPhillips will invest about $111 million and has offered a bank guarantee of the same amount for the two blocks.    Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon, terming the deal an irony, urged the government in parliament last Monday not to sign the deal, and to discuss the issue in parliament first. "While the government is planning to import LNG, the multinational will have the authority to export 80 percent of gas, and the country will be left with the only 20 percent," he said.    He expressed concern saying that the government had failed to realise the compensation for the accidents in Magurchharha and Tengratila gas fields, in 1997 and 2005. "Gas worth Tk 360 billion or 500 billion cubic feet was destroyed in the accidents."    The US firm Occidental was responsible for the Magurchharha and Canadian Niko for the other.    The deal stipulates that the US firm will have to build a pipeline from the blocks to shallow sea gas field Sangu, from where Petrobangla will draw gas. The contractor will be allowed to have gas for the cost of pipeline as cost- recovery. The national committee says bringing the remaining 20 percent gas to the shore from the deep sea would not be economically viable.    The country is divided into 52 blocks, 28 of which are in the Bay. The proven gas reserves are 7.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and probable reserves are further 5.5 tcf    The police blockaded the rally near the secretariat, and baton charged the protesters as they approached the barricade. Writer and anthropologist Rahnuma Ahmed (centre) was one of several protesters who were injured during the clashes    Writer and anthropologist Rahnuma Ahmed was injured during the clash. 14 th June 2011.