Cambodia Begins Oil Production, But Who Will Benefit?

Late last year, Cambodia finally began oil production, from offshore fields in the Gulf of Thailand. A joint venture between the Cambodian government and Singaporean company KrisEnergy Ltd started production, and will be ramping up new wells in the coming months. Cambodia has known about its offshore oil for more than a decade, and other oil firms like Chevron had invested in Cambodian offshore exploration in the past. But production had been delayed for years as some companies were scared off by the low global price of oil and as the Cambodian government initially could not reach a deal on production with an oil company.

The offshore fields will start with a peak production of around 7,500 barrels of oil per day, a relatively small amount: major oil states like Russia produce well over 10 million barrels each day, and neighboring states like Thailand produce more than Cambodia as well. But even that modest output will reportedly create some $500 million in new revenue for Cambodia, where GDP per capita is only around $1,500. Cambodian government believes there are hundreds of millions of barrels of oil in its offshore waters; revenues could increase as new wells are developed after the project’s first phase. Announcing the production online, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the oil output “a blessing.” And yet, in one of the most authoritarian and corrupt countries in East Asia, a place where Hun Sen has throttled the remnants of Cambodia’s pseduodemocracy in recent years, who will actually benefit from the new oil production?

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