Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oil drilling to begin in Burma’s eco-sensitive Hukaung Valley

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 17:24 Thomas Maung Shwe (Mizzima)

(News Analysis) – Endangered tigers and local villagers are threatened by an oil-drilling venture due to start in a remote area of Burma’s northern Kachin State.

The Hukaung valley is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society
The Hukaung valley is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society
A Singapore-based joint venture firm Silver Wave Exploration & Production announced last week that it will soon begin drilling for oil on land that includes the ecologically sensitive Hukaung Valley in Kachin state.

Environmentalists and opposition activists worry Silver Wave’s exploitation of the 19,066-sq km block of land could wipe out endangered animals and kick people off their land.

The Hukaung valley, also spelt Hukawang, is home to rare tigers and other endangered species including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants.

Activists have expressed concern that local villagers and farmers will be driven off their land and made homeless by Silver Wave’s operations.

In 2001, the Burmese military regime in collaboration with the American NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) established the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. Local residents were given no opportunity for input and many critics from Burma’s democratic opposition worried that the reserve was a bogus ploy by the military regime to get foreign funds.  The critics also charged that a key backer of the project WCS’s former director of science and exploration, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, was woefully naïve for working with the Burmese regime and praising the generals. 

Tigers in the wild are said to number a mere 3,000 worldwide, according to WCS.

In 2004, the reserve’s total area expanded to include the entire valley of 21,890 square kilometers, creating what was heralded as the largest tiger reserve in the world.  Since the reserve’s expansion, the Burmese regime has encouraged logging, gold mining, large scale farms and the building of factories inside what is supposed to be a tiger and nature reserve. 

According to a report in the Business Times of Singapore, Silver Wave Exploration & Production was formed recently as a joint venture between Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd, another Singaporean firm, BFI Holding Pte Ltd, and two firms from Japan, Star Field Corporation and Star Holding Corporation. 

A press release issued by BFI Holdings on April 18 stated that Silver Wave Exploration’s drilling programme in the Hukaung valley will begin this year and have a budget of US$ 100 million.  The press release also indicated that Silver Wave exploration ‘has acquired all licence rights for exploration and production oil-prospecting acquisitions at Block B (B 2)’ which Silver Wave energy had previously received from state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). 

The BFI press release said that Block B2 is located in the Hukaung Valley, although several previous MOGE reports including a detailed map made for an Asia Development Bank conference in 2008 placed B2 further south in an area of Northern Sagain Division called Zebyutaung-Nandaw (also spelt Zeebyutaung) in Pinlebu Township.  The 2008  MOGE report listed the Hukaung block as PSC-A.  The reason for the discrepancy remains unclear.

The red star marks the area of the Hukaung Valley wildlife reserve.
The red star marks the area of the Hukaung Valley wildlife reserve.
Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd while based in Singapore is owned by Burmese businessman Min Min Aung (also known as Minn Minn Oung) and is part of his Silver Wave Trading group, a conglomerate known for having close ties to Burma’s generals.

Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd has been active in both offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration in Burma since at least 2006.  Min Min Aung previously joined forces with government officials from the Russian republic of Kalmykia to form Silver Wave Sputnik Petroleum Pte incorporated in Singapore.

Burmese state media reported in March 2007 that Silver Wave Sputnik and Silver Wave Energy signed an agreement with state-owned MOGE to explore for oil in the Hukaung Valley. Boris Chedyrov, the Kalmykia Republic’s  Minister for Energy, attended a March 2007 ceremony with Min Min Aung and Burmese government officials. 

In September 2008, The New Light of Myanmar reported that MOGE had signed a deal with Russian firm Nobel Oil of the Russian Federation to allow for oil and gas exploration in the Hukaung and U-ru regions. It appears that Nobel Oil let their licenses for these areas expire without renewing them. 

Junta land grab in Hukaung Valley makes thousands homeless

According to a report produced by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) in August of last year, since 2006 the Yuzana Corporation has with the support of central government authorities expropriated more than 809 square km (200,000 acres) of land in the Hukaung valley from local Kachin villagers.

KDNG reports that hundreds of families have been displaced by Yuzana’s land acquisition. As with many other such state approved land grabs in Burma, the displaced families were not adequately compensated and many were forced to say they were moved ‘willingly’.

Yuzana has planted large plantations of cassava root and sugar cane on the contested land.  Instead of hiring local people for the massive plantation farms, Yuzana has imported workers belonging to the Burman majority from the south of the country. 

Reports from the area indicate that the Yuzana’s operations have created intense resentment among the remaining Kachin residents of the Hukaung Valley. The Burmese military is reportedly giving the Yuzana employees military training to deal with unhappy local residents. Yuzana is headed by Htay Myint, a real estate tycoon said to be close to Burma’s generals.