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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CNOOC to start drilling 1st oil well in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH - The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will start drilling the first well in the Block F offshore in Cambodia's Preah Sihanouk province later this month, Li Fanrong, the company's Chief Executive Officer, said Wednesday.

His disclosure was made during a meeting with Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, minister of the council of ministers, according to Ek Tha, spokesman and deputy director of the Council of Ministers' Press Department.

Li Fanrong said the start of the drilling showed the firm's commitment to investing in Cambodia's oil and gas sector and it resulted from good and long relationship between Cambodia and China, according to Ek Tha.

The first well drilling is expected to cost 20 million US dollars.

Meanwhile, Sok An said it was a very good sign for Cambodia's oil and gas sector and added that Cambodia fully supported the firm for the drilling.

He also asked the CNOOC, which is China's biggest offshore oil and gas company, to help develop Cambodian petroleum officials to keep up with new techniques in oil and gas industry.

The government of Cambodia awarded the Block F in the total area of over 7,000 square kilometers to the CNOOC in 2007, according to the document of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority.

The Block F is one of the six offshore Blocks that Cambodia awarded to companies to do the exploration.

The other five Blocks are Block A by the US Chevron and Japan' s Mitsui Oil Exploration, Block B to Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production and Singapore Petroleum, Block C to Polytec Petroleum Hong Kong, Block D to China Petrotech Holdings Limited, and Block E to Medco Energi and Kuwait Energy.

The impoverished Southeast Asian nation hopes that the first drop of its own-produced oil will be available from December, 2012 as now Cambodia's Petrochemical Company, a joint-venture with the China National Automation Control System Corporation, has been studying the feasibility to build an oil refinery with an annual capacity of 5 million tons per year in Preah Sihanouk province.
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Inevitable, or in Limbo? A Dam for the Mekong

“Many villages don’t even know they need to be resettled, and people living downstream don’t know what’s happening.”

By Rachel Nuwer

As The Times reported last week, environment ministers from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos have decided to await the results of further studies before making a decision on whether to proceed with construction of a dam in the Mekong River. Conservationists argue that damming the river, a vital and biologically diverse lifeline for people in all four countries, would be irresponsible. (Check out our slide show to get a sense of the river’s centrality to people in the basin.)

Zeb Hogan, University of Nevada, RenoA floating village in the Tonle Sap River, which drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. The arrow trap, one of many indigenous fishing methods that developed over the centuries, shifts seasonally depending on water levels and the related behavior of fish.

What comes next, however, is unclear. The government of Laos, where the dam would be built, is not satisfied with the decision, according to Viraphonh Viravong, the deputy minister of the Laotian Ministry of Energy and Mines. “It would be very sad and not very fair to Laos not to develop the Xayaburi project since this is a very rare opportunity for Laos to attract foreign investment,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “We would not be very proud of ourselves to continue begging for development assistance.”

What is more, Laos began preliminary construction at the dam site before last week’s meeting and has yet to make a clear commitment to stop construction at Xayaburi.

“The government of Laos didn’t mention the topic at the meeting,” said Surasak Glahan, a spokesman for the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental body that is responsible for promoting cooperation in the basin and organized the meeting. He said the commission and the other member governments had sent official letters to the Laotian government inquiring about construction activity but had yet to receive a reply.
After the meeting, the Laotian authorities told some members of the local media that the construction activity had nothing to do with the dam and was part of “normal” projects like bringing roads to local communities.
As we noted here last week, the Xayaburi dam, a 1260-megawatt hydropower project, is the first of 11 proposed mainstream dams on the Mekong River. Although it is aimed at generating much-needed foreign exchange earnings for Laos, scientists and neighboring countries like Vietnam and Cambodia have expressed concern over the project’s potential social and environmental impacts since it was first proposed in September 2010.

Some scientists and conservationists still hope that the project can be shelved altogether. “We will continue to advocate for no dams on the Mekong,” said Ame Trandem, the Southeast Asia program director for the nonprofit group International Rivers. She said that damming the river would be “reckless and irresponsible” given the many uncertainties about the project’s effects on the ecosystem and local people.

Zeb Hogan, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno who has studied the river’s ecosystem, said that the Mekong countries had made “a prudent decision” for now that represented “a rare win” for fish and for the millions of people who depend upon fish and the health of the Mekong for their livelihoods.

For critically endangered species like the Mekong giant catfish, the delay preserves the possibility of saving the species from extinction, he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Viravong counters that the dam’s impacts would be “insignificant” and that the project will not cause significant trans-boundary problems downstream.

Mr. Glahan of the Mekong River Commission said that it was awaiting directions from the four member countries. The nations may request further studies and the drafting of details on what approach the countries would prefer to take in addressing the dam’s potential impacts, he said.

The four countries have already asked Japan to assist in further studies.

Thirteen other nations, including the United States, and donor agencies like the World Bank attended last week’s meeting. In a statement, those countries and organizations said they hoped that further studies would address knowledge gaps and “account for the full value of environmental, economic and social services currently provided by the basin.” A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, called the delay “a positive sign,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr. Viravong said that Laos was recruiting experts on fisheries and sediment to review previous reports evaluating the dam’s potential impacts, including a strategic environmental assessment and a controversial report commissioned by Laos that said dam construction would pose no serious risks yet incorporated no new scientific research. He said that such reviews should take two to three months.

A comprehensive environmental study involving Japan and the other donor countries would probably take 10 years, Mr. Viravong warned.

The international partners have also recommended deeper engagement with local communities in the decision-making process, especially people who could be most affected by the dam. That would require providing the communities with detailed environmental impact assessments written in their own language at least 30 days before a public consultation, Ms. Trandem said, which has not happened so far in any of the four countries.

This is especially pressing for Lao communities, who have not been consulted. “They’ve really heard mixed information,” Ms. Trandem said, “Many villages don’t even know they need to be resettled, and people living downstream don’t know what’s happening.”

Mr. Viravong, the Laotian government minister, emphasized that the Xayaburi project would provide clean, renewable and sustainable energy. “This is not for Lao people only, but for the benefit of the region and the whole world,” he said. “Please help Laos develop sustainable hydropower projects and don’t make this more difficult for the poor people of Laos.” Read more!

Khmer Rouge leader tells Cambodia court: 'don't call me Brother Number Two'

The former deputy leader of the Khmer Rouge told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Wednesday that he was never called "Brother Number Two", a nickname he said was "too big" for him.

"I am not 'Brother Number Two'," the 85-year-old Nuon Chea said in court Photo: REUTERS/Mark Peters

Giving evidence at his landmark atrocities trial, alongside two other senior members of the brutal 1970s regime, Nuon Chea said there "was no such thing" as a hierarchy numbering system within the Khmer Rouge.

"I am not 'Brother Number Two'," the 85-year-old said, though he admitted he was the deputy secretary of the party and "one step below" leader Pol Pot – who died in 1998 and was widely known as "Brother Number One".

The hardline communist Khmer Rouge emptied cities, abolished money and religion and wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

Nuon Chea, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan all deny charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for their roles in a regime blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

The trio's long-awaited trial is seen as vital to healing wounds in the still-traumatised nation and hundreds of Cambodians again packed the public gallery to see Nuon Chea, wearing a black jumper and jacket, take the stand.

"So 'Brother Number Two' to me seems too big for me," the elderly defendant said. "I have never used 'Brother Number Two' and in the party no one called me 'Brother Number Two' at all."

He added that he believed the moniker was popularised by Cambodians who had studied in neighbouring Vietnam and copied that country's culture of assigning numbers to indicate ranks.

The first phase of the trial will focus on the forced evacuation of over two million residents from Phnom Penh to work in rural areas, a decision Nuon Chea said was made without input from fellow accused Khieu Samphan.

"He had no business to do with the evacuation or otherwise of the people. It was not his task," Nuon Chea said.

On Tuesday, Khieu Samphan told judges he was a mere figurehead who had no real power in the party. The French-educated intellectual has always insisted he knew nothing, until long afterwards, of the mass killings under the regime.
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Cambodia expects 7% growth in 2011: premier

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said the country's economy would grow by about seven per cent in 2011 despite the agricultural damage caused by unusually heavy flooding.

Cambodia's deadliest floods in over a decade, triggered by heavy rains in August and September, killed at least 247 people and destroyed nearly one tenth of the nation's rice paddies.

"I would like to confirm that although the agricultural sector growth is at zero per cent, Cambodia's economic growth rate will be around seven per cent this year," Hun Sen said during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

He said the economy was boosted by an increase in garment exports and international tourist arrivals and a resurgent construction industry.

The International Monetary Fund last week projected that Cambodia's economic growth in 2011 would fall slightly below six per cent as a result of the floods, down from an earlier forecast of 6.7 per cent.

The global body said it expected Cambodia's gross domestic product growth to reach 7.25 per cent in 2012.

Written off as a failed state after the devastating 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime and several decades of civil war, Cambodia has used garment and footwear exports and tourism to help improve its economy.

The country enjoyed several years of double-digit economic growth before being hit hard by the global financial crisis which began in 2007.

But like much of Asia, Cambodia has bounced back and achieved 5.9 per cent growth in 2010, according to Hun Sen.

Cambodia remains one of the world's poorest countries, with around 30 per cent of its 14 million people living on less than US$! (S$1.3) a day.
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