By an OGJ correspondent
BANGKOK, May 14 -- Thailand has decided to proceed with the Thai-Malay natural gas pipeline and related gas separation plant project long stalled by local opposition.
The announcement, made by the Thailand prime minister's secretary general Prommin Lertsuriyadech May 10, followed years of confusion, debates, and disputes over whether the major energy project should be built (OGJ Online, Apr. 5, 2002). The newly rerouted gas pipeline may yet face more opposition.
To avoid the area where most of the project's opponents live and yet avoid the necessity for another environmental impact assessment (EIA), the planned onshore pipeline section through the southern Thai province of Songkhla on the Malay Peninsula will be rerouted only slightly from the original route, where EIAs have already been conducted.
Thailand's Environment Act does not require an EIA if a new route is less than 5 km from the original.
The Thaksin Shinawatra administration also decided that the pipeline, which will extend from the Thai-Malay joint development area (JDA) in the southern Gulf of Thailand, would come ashore at Ban Nairat in Tambon Taling Chan, 4.8 km from the original route at Ban Kobsak in Tambon Sakom. Both are in the Chana district of Songkhla Province in southern Thailand..
Most of the most adamant opponents live in Chana.
The alternative route of the 36-in. inland line is expected to be shorter than the previously planned route, which was to extend 87 km from the Chana district to Kedah in northern Malaysia.
The pipeline rerouting would also mean relocation of the two 425 MMcfd gas separation units to Ban Nairat.
Thaksin's go-ahead decision came one day after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested that a proposed Thai-Malay gas pipeline be built through Malaysia to overcome Thai concerns about environmental damage.
"I think there may be a solution," Mahathir was quoted by Malaysia's national news agency Bernama as saying on May 9. "If they cannot pass into Thai territory, they can pass via our territory."
The delayed pipeline had been planned for completion in the third quarter of this year to deliver 390 MMcfd of gas to Malaysia from Cakerawala gas field on Block A-18 of the JDA.
Opposition to continue
Responding to the go-ahead announcement, opponents of the pipeline project in Songkhla insisted they would continue to oppose the project and were ready to react to any kind of threat from the government.
"Our actions depend on what the government does. We will not use violence unless the government forces us to," said Kittiphob Sudhisawand, the leader of opposition to the pipeline.
"Shifting the project 5 km means nothing because the negative impact of the project is unchanged or even greater, because the new site is in the middle of eight villages," he said.
Decharut Sukkumnoed, a lecturer on economics at Thailand's state Kasetsart University, seemed to agree, saying the decision to proceed with the project by shifting the pipeline a few kilometers away to avoid a new EIA study was a mistake and set a bad example.