Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bangladesh police block energy activists demo against U.S firm

SALEEM SAMAD

RIOT POLICE armed with shot guns, tear gas shells and wearing flak jackets foiled a protest march organized by energy activists on Tuesday against government’s plan to sign offshore contracts with an U.S. energy giant.

At least 20 activists of the Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Mineral Resources were injured when riot police clubbed protesters with batons.

Despite the violent protest, the state-owned hydrocarbon corporation PetroBangla is set to ink on Thursday a deal with ConocoPhillips, an international company to award two deep sea oil-gas exploration blocks in the Bay of Bengal, intermittently visited by tidal surge and cyclones.

Critiquing the government the protesters were joined by socialist political parties and workers organizations sporting red flags, placards and banners demanded transparency and access to information of the deal.

Lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon, leader of Workers Party urged the government in the parliament on Monday not to sign the deal, and to discuss the issue in parliament.

Professor Anu Mohammad, leader of the energy activists group addressing the gathering said the proposed deal would be suicidal for the country.

It is contradictory that the government plans to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and on the other, it is allowing gas export through U.S. energy giants, says Mohammad also an university economics teacher.

According to the committee, the deal would go against the national interest since the Houston, Texas based company will be allowed to retain 80 percent of the gas from the blocks.

The energy activists argue that transporting the remaining 20 percent gas to the shore from the deep sea would not be economically viable.

The deal demands that the US firm will have to lay 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.

ConocoPhillips won these blocks in 2008, but could not sign the contract with state-run PetroBangla as these blocks were 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.

Bangladesh has been experiencing severe gas crunch, which prompted the government to shelve production in a number of fertilizer factories, suspend operation of compressed natural gas (CNG) stations refueling vehicles. The government also introduced rationing of gas supply to industries.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

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