Two local rights groups have launched surveys to monitor potential adverse impacts of controversial China-backed petroleum pipelines passing through 21 townships in Myanmar and plan to deliver their findings to the country’s parliament, international organizations, and project investors.
A gas pipeline and an ongoing parallel oil pipe under the Shwe Project—a joint venture largely between the official petroleum groups of China and Myanmar—run from Maday Island in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, through Magway and Mandalay regions, Shan state, and across the northeastern border to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province.
Rights groups have expressed concern over environmental and socioeconomic effects from the project as well as issues related to takeovers of land from residents that remain unresolved.
The gas pipeline, which began delivering natural gas to China two months ago, prompted a mass demonstration in April in which protesters from dozens of villages in Rakhine state said they had been inadequately compensated after giving up their land for the project.
Hnin Yu Shwe, chairwoman of the Myanmar-China Pipeline Watch Committee, said that her organization had begun five days of discussions on the impact of the pipeline with residents of Rakhine’s affected townships of Kyaukpyu, Ann, and Ponnagyun in the state capital Sittwe on Tuesday.
“Our group has been taking a survey for a social impact assessment of this Chinese pipeline,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Then, we are going to send our report to international organizations, the investors on this project, and the Myanmar authorities.”
She said that the Myanmar-China Pipeline Watch Committee had decided to conduct the survey as a way to keep residents of Rakhine state better informed about the benefits and “negative” effects the pipeline has had on people’s lives.
The committee has said that despite the large amount of land across the country confiscated for the pipeline, less than 0.01 percent of the project’s budget was to be used for compensating affected villagers.
Meanwhile, officials from another group monitoring the pipeline called Padaytha Moe said Tuesday that they had begun a survey last week on the project’s impact on farmland in seven villages of Ngape township in central Myanmar’s Magway region.
“We are going to submit our survey results to parliament,” Padaytha Moe member Thant Zin said.
“We hope the results will prove helpful to the government in solving the harmful impacts on this region. We have seen a variety of social and economic impacts, such as the loss of land and students being forced to drop out of school [to help support their families].”
Thant Zin said that Padaytha Moe had chosen the seven villages to survey—including Yinshay, Zatetku, Songon, Tayagon, and Pyangyi villages—because residents had not been given any compensation for the pipeline project, while many of those in Ngape’s other villages had.
He said that since launching the survey on Sept. 16, the administrator of Ngape township had tried to stop Padaytha Moe from speaking with residents, but they had defied the order. He did not provide details of what kind of opposition the group had encountered from local authorities.
The U.S. $2.5 billion Shwe Project is a joint venture between Beijing’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Myanmar’s national petroleum company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
CNPC completed the U.S. $14.2 million, 800-kilometer (500-mile) gas pipeline and began delivering natural gas to southern China’s Yunnan province in July, despite long-held objections from critics.
The state-run petroleum giant is nearing completion of a pipeline along the same route to transport oil purchased in the Middle East to China via Myanmar, in what officials connected to the project say shortens a distance that originally would have included passage through the Malacca Strait.
The designed annual capacity is 12 billion cubic meters (423.8 billion cubic feet) for the gas pipeline and 22 million tons for the oil pipeline.
According to China’s official CCTV, the pipelines will satisfy a quarter of the country’s annual natural gas demand, and also bring about U.S. $1.5 billion to Myanmar each year.
After the completion and commissioning of the whole project, two million tons of crude oil and 20 percent of the designed throughput of gas will be off-loaded in Myanmar, which officials say will promote economic development and the living standards of the people.
But the promises have done little to placate activists who say that in addition to trampling on the rights of local residents, the project has also negatively impacted the environment, lacks transparency, and largely benefits China.
In April, about 400 people took part in a mass protest against the pipeline in Kyaukpyu, complaining they were inadequately compensated for their land and demanding that the project developers provide better transportation infrastructure and higher salaries for local workers.
They also called on CNPC to supply the area with electricity before continuing with the project, and to create more job opportunities for local workers and to pay them at international rates.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.