Oil and Gas Companies are Financing the Killing of Myanmar’s People

Location:

Myanmar

Project risks:

Conflict/Violence, Environmental Destruction, Social Harm

Companies:

  • Chevron Corporation
  • Posco International Corporation
  • PTT Exploration and Production Public Company Ltd (PTTEP)
  • China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)
  • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC)
  • Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS)
  • JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corporation
  • GAIL (India) Ltd
  • China ZhenHua Oil Co Ltd

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After ten years of democratic reforms, Chevron, CNPC, PTTEP, Posco and other oil and gas companies are once again financing Myanmar’s military junta.14571 According to U tun Win, former Member of Parliament, and national and international NGOs, the generals in power are using this gas money to buy weapons to kill the people of Myanmar.[1]

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military took over the country’s democratic institutions.[2] The soldiers put the government leader Aung San Suu Kyi in prison.[3] To protest against the takeover, the people of Myanmar immediately took to the streets.[4] While their resistance has been mostly peaceful, the reaction of the army was not.[5] Within 21 months after the military coup, the soldiers have killed at least 2,408 people and arrested 16,040 protestors.14573

The United Nations is investigating whether the military is committing crimes against humanity: “The country of Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime. There is extensive video evidence of security forces viciously beating protesters, medics, and bystanders. There is video of soldiers and police systematically moving through neighborhoods, destroying property, looting shops, arbitrarily arresting protesters and passersby, and firing indiscriminately into people's homes." – Thomas Andrews, UN human rights investigator on Myanmar.[7]

Note:

Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) is the state company responsible for oil & gas activities in Myanmar. In 2022, MOGE did not meet the GOGEL thresholds and is thus not included in the company list above, which is based on GOGEL data. However, the company remains the link between the international oil & gas companies and the military junta.

Despite the soldiers’ violence, the people of Myanmar are standing up against the military takeover. Credit: Htin Linn Aye, licensed under CC BY-SA

This is not the first time the generals rule Myanmar. From 1962 to 2011, Myanmar’s people lived under the dictatorship of the same military.[8] Then and now, oil and gas companies have worked hand in hand with the army. To be allowed to produce fossil fuels in Myanmar, the companies have to pay a share of their revenue to the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).[9] MOGE is a state-owned company that is now in the hands of the military junta.[10] The oil and gas money flows directly into the pockets of the generals in power.[11] In fact, the army gets most of its money from TotalEnergies, Chevron, Posco, PTTEP and many other fossil fuel companies.[12] According to the UN investigator, "MOGE represents the single largest source of revenue to the state."[13]

International oil and gas companies pay hundreds of millions of US dollars to MOGE.[14] For nearly a whole year after the coup, Chevron’s and TotalEnergies’s Yadana gas project was the biggest money source of them all.[15] In 1998, the companies started drilling for gas in the Yadana field in southern Myanmar and pumped it to Thailand through a pipeline.[17] This pipeline cuts 63 km (39 mi) through Myanmar’s vibrant tropical rainforest.[18] A second pipeline, Yetagun, follows the same route.14575 The Tenasserim Forest stretches all the way across Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.[19] In this dense forest, indigenous people live in small villages.[20] They coexist in peace with Asian elephants, Malayan tapirs, Asian black bears and bison.[21]

The name Yadana means treasure in the Myanmar language, but the project turned out to be a treasure only for the generals and the foreign companies.[22] For the people who live along the pipeline, it is a different story: “The situation in our village was very good before Total worked here. We did farming, raised cattle and worked on our plantations peacefully, so our lives were better. After Total came, we were forced to go porter, carrying things for soldiers, we were forced to work on many things. Our farms and gardens were destroyed, and our durian and rubber plantations were gone with the pipeline.” – said a person who lives along the Yadana pipeline corridor.[23]

Right from the beginning, the companies worked hand in hand with the military junta.[24] To make space for TotalEnergies’s and Chevron’s pipeline, the soldiers drove tens of thousands of people out of their homes and villages.[25] They forced the people to carry their weapons, construction equipment and rice for days on end, often not giving them food or water.[26][27] Along the pipeline corridor, they made the people build roads, military barracks, police stations and helicopter landing pads for company executives.[28][29][30] If the people refused to work for the military, they had to pay regular penalty fees until they had no money left.[31] If they worked for the soldiers, they couldn’t work on their farms.[32] Often, in one way or another, they lost their homes and their livelihoods and ended up in refugee camps and deep poverty.[33][34] The soldiers also raped young girls and women along the pipeline corridor.[35] They randomly beat, tortured, and murdered many people.[36]

These soldiers are part of the same military that is now set on establishing its dictatorship again. Already in 1992, when Levi Strauss & Co quit Myanmar, one of its executives said:“It is not possible to do business without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive human rights violations.” [37] This is still true.

Only following continuous public pressure, oil and gas companies have reluctantly begun to pull out of Myanmar. TotalEnergies announced in 2022 that they would exit Myanmar due to the dramatic humanitarian situation in the country.14579 The late move will not bring back the dead, and it will not protect the Myanmar people in future. In July 2022, TotalEnergies handed over parts of its ownership shares in the Yadana gas field to the military-controlled MOGE.14577 This way, TotalEnergies’s withdrawal could in fact make the military junta earn even more money.14581 Other companies, including Chevron, Woodside, Petronas and Mitsubishi declared that they will end at least parts of their operations in Myanmar.14583145851458714589 Some are only leaving because the gas reserves in the Yetagun field no longer pay off.14591 Civil society organizations are urging the companies to exit responsibly to ensure that future revenues of the gas fields do not fill the coffers of the Myanmar military.1459314595 PTTEP, CNPC, and Posco still produce fossil fuels in Myanmar. Every day, gas money continues to finance the military’s brutality against the people of Myanmar.

Sources:

The companies listed here produced oil & gas in Myanmar in 2022. Other international companies, like Eni, still hold exploration licenses in the country but do not (yet) produce. https://www.eni.com/en-IT/eni-worldwide/asia-pacific/myanmar.html
https://aappb.org/?p=23328 (updated daily, figures from 02 November 2022)
Earthrights International, 2000. Total Denial Continues – Earth Right Abuses Along the Yadana and Yetagun Pipelines in Burma (https://www.burmalibrary.org/sites/burmalibrary.org/files/obl/docs4/Total_Denia…), p.12
https://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/b/burma/burma977.pdf p.8 (BURMA/THAILAND No Safety in Burma, No Sanctuary in Thailand)