HomeWorld RegionsAsiaQuestions still burn in Thailand over natural gas

Questions still burn in Thailand over natural gas

Oct. 21, 2000 (Bangkok Post)à‚–On Wednesday, 175 million shares of the Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Co defied weak market sentiment and were successfully placed with retail investors within 17 minutes and 33 seconds.

To no one’s surprise, the company’s power plant uses natural gas from Burma as a major fuel in power generation. Once completed, it will be the largest power plant in the country, while the flow of Burmese gas will rise continually.

Natural gas is a significant fuel source in Thailand’s electricity generation, with greater efficiency (50%) when used in a combined-cycle system, and even more efficiency (70-80%) in a cogeneration system, compared with the 35% efficiency of a thermal power plant.

For every unit of power generated by natural gas, emissions are much less than from other fossil fuels. That’s why natural gas is widely used around the world to reduce greenhouse gases and alleviate the impact on climate change.

Despite its various advantages, natural gas must be transmitted via pipelines. So a certain area for construction is required, inevitably causing a certain adverse impact, but only lasting for a few months. Once construction is completed, surrounding areas can be restored and rehabilitated.

In Thailand, natural gas has been used for almost two decades. Gas accounts for 60% of the fuel used for power generation. Over 2,000 kilometres of gas pipelines now exist. Five gas-separation plants are in operation, four belonging to the Petroleum Authority of Thailand and one to Thai Shell Exploration and Production.

Yet despite its long use and presence in Thailand’s energy sector, questions over natural gas remain in the public eye.

The controversy over the Trans-Thailand-Malaysia gas pipeline and gas separation plant project still hovers around the same old questions.

The project is a 50:50 joint investment by the PTT and Petronas, the national oil company of Malaysia, aiming to optimise natural gas utilisation in the Malaysia-Thailand Joint Development Area (JDA).

The Trans-Thailand-Malaysia Co Ltd (TTM) was established under a cabinet resolution on Sept 12, 1999, with two crucial conditions: an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be approved and a public hearing must be held.

Construction of the gas pipeline and gas-separation plant can only be started after these two conditions are met.

What has been done? The EIA has been submitted to the Office of the Environmental Policy and Planning for approval, a process now underway.

What about the public hearing? It was scheduled on July 29-30, but came to a halt due to public opposition.

And after careful consultation with the Interior Ministry, the Public Hearing Committee, appointed by the Industry Ministry, rescheduled the public hearing for today and tomorrow.

Should this public hearing be considered the final one? The first question to be answered is whether the public hearing is against the constitution.

According to the current constitution, a public hearing based on existing law must be held before any project with a potential environmental impact can be implemented.

The only existing law on public hearings is a 1996 PM’s Office regulation. This is the regulation that the Public Hearing Committee, PTT and TTM must abide by.

And even once the public hearing is over, it doesn’t mean everything is finalised.

According to the regulation, the committee must allow another 15 days for those who want to submit their opinions. After that, opinions would be compiled and submitted to the cabinet for a final decision.

Certain agreements that had been signed prior to the public hearing have also been questioned, in terms of their constitutionality.

It should be clarified that the four agreements signed in October last year were a gas sale agreement, balancing agreement, master agreement for gas joint venture projects and shareholders’ agreement. These have nothing to do with the construction of the pipeline and separation plant.

Is the project really beneficial? It certainly is for the country in terms of gas reserves. It is known that indigenous gas reserves are quite limited.

The 13 trillion cubic feet (TCF) available in the Gulf of Thailand, based on current consumption, are sufficient for another 20 years at most.

Additional gas fields are thus being procured from Burma and the JDA to satisfy rising demand, which will add another 14 TCF and prolong our reserves to 30-40 years.

This rising total raises the confidence of such potential gas users as power plants, industrial plants as well as the transport sector, which can switch to natural gas if the supplies are secure.

With its environmentally friendly nature, the more natural gas is used, the better the environment will be.

The Trans-Thailand-Malaysia project will also generate more income for the country in terms of royalties and taxes, amounting to around 300 billion baht for national development as a whole, which will benefit people in southern Thailand as well.

Local people also benefit from the investment and foreign currency utilised in the project. More employment opportunities are sure to arise as well, with revenue accruing to local administration bodies through various forms of taxes.

Another great concern of the local people is the industries that may accompany the gas-separation plant, especially petrochemicals.

However, the planned gas separation plant will not yield products that can be feedstocks for the petrochemical industry.

The plant itself is clean and safe. All four existing gas-separation plants run by the PTT in Rayong and Nakhon Si Thammarat have achieved various international certifications for clean, safe operations.

In conclusion, whether the Trans-Thailand-Malaysia project can actually materialise depends on the chance the public intends to give to it.

This chance does not belong to the PTT, TTM or any other party but the local people themselves to decide. Just give it a chance.

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