Japanese Company Resumes Search for Oil in the Tonle Sap

A Japanese oil company is wrapping up a massive survey of the Tonle Sap and Mekong river basins that will determine whe­ther the area has potential oil and gas reserves, officials from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy said Thursday.

If the results are promising, areas of the Tonle Sap lake may be available for bids by oil companies by early 1999, said Men Den, vice director in charge of the petroleum sector at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

Japan National Oil Cooperation resumed work in the Tonle Sap area in March after a nine-month hiatus, taking aerial pictures that will be used for seismic maps of the areas, Men Den said. The work is scheduled to be finished in May.

“We will get the results back and prepare it for investors who would like to do oil exploration of the Tonle Sap,” Men Den said.

Men Den said it is still too early to say whether the results of the survey will show whether the lake and its surrounding area might unearth oil or gas.

Nonetheless, the government is already considering offering 30-year contracts to companies interested in exploring for oil on Cam­bodian soil.

If oil or gas is found, the government stands to make money from tax revenues off the natural resources.

Japan National Oil Cooperation is spending an estimated $2 million to take the photos, process and an­alyze the maps. When completed, the study will be the first-known comprehensive exa­mination of oil and gas prospects inland.

Companies already have been looking offshore for oil in the Gulf of Thailand.

The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy has done no en­vironmental impact survey of potential oil drilling in the country’s most important waterways. Men Den said that investors would be asked to do the impact studies before any exploratory drilling is done.

Officials at the Ministry of the Environment and organizations working on the lake’s development expressed concern over the prospect of oil drilling.

“The study will be no problem, but now the government has no plan for how it will develop any oil exploration on the Tonle Sap,” said Seng Oeurn, secretary of state for the Ministry of the En­vironment.

“If they start drilling the oil it may become a problem for the river’s biodiversity. Shellfish, crabs, and fish in the water may die if they do not take care of the equipment,” Seng Oeurn said.

The chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee said he knew nothing about the progress of the survey and ex­pressed concern and surprise.

“We are discussing now how to develop the lake in an ecological way,” said Khy Tainglim, the deputy chair of the committee. The panel, made up of representatives of a number of ministries, including the Ministry of In­dustry, Mines and Energy, focuses on how best to develop the lake’s assets.

“We need a balanced use of our resources,” he said. “We have a duty to keep the lake alive.”

The Japan National Oil Co­operation halted its first attempt at the project last May after a plane it chartered to take aerial photos crashed in Kompong Speu province. Two US citizens aboard the plane who worked for the company were killed.

The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy awarded Japan Oil the rights to do the study in 1996. As part of the agreement, the company was given permission to analyze 48,000 square km of the Tonle Sap and 6,000 square km of the Mekong River basin.

Japan Oil representatives said they originally discussed the project with the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy in 1992.


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