Magurchhara Day Today: Impunity for influential quarters should stop!

Abu Bakar Siddique

Experts say there has been hardly any initiative to press for the country’s compensation claim to get the exploration company responsible to meet it

Moulvibazar district map 
Photo- Wikimedia
Sixteen years after the devastating Magruchhara gas-field blowout, Bangladesh has yet to receive any compensation for the environmental damages that occurred in the explosion.

Experts say there has been hardly any initiative to press for the country’s compensation claim to get the exploration company responsible to meet it.

At the time of the incident, Magurchhara was being explored by US company Occidental. The fields were later handed over to Unocol, then Chevron.

Failure to get compensation “happened because of negligence by the environment and forest ministry, as well as Petrobangla.

Both failed to make a strong case for what we rightfully deserve,” said Professor Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University.

On June 14, 1997, an explosion occurred at a Moulvibazar gas field (well-1) in Magurchhara Reserve Forest, causing massive environmental damages and the loss of about 6.9bn cubic metres of gas.

After the incident, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) claimed Tk6.09bn as compensation for the destruction of forest resources, which Occidental has not yet paid.

However, Occidental estimated the losses at only Tk2.96m worth of resources.

Later, the company claimed to have spent over Tk397m to compensate for the devastation of transportation, utilities, the local community and tea estates wrought by the explosion.

Difference of opinion

According to sources, in the aftermath of the explosion, the government allegedly signed a supplementary contract with Occidental to receive an additional 5% of the gas explored under the Production Sharing Contract (PSC).

However, Anu said the contract served to weaken the MoEF’s claim to compensation.

“It is a tricky deal, as obtaining the additional amount of gas will depend on the availability of new gas reserves, not on existing ones being explored in Moulvibazar,” he said.

Mohammad Imamuddin, director of PSC, ruled out the allegation of secret deal-signing with Occidental, and said people are trying to destabilise the energy sector by making wild remarks.

He countered the compensation claim by MoEF for environmental losses in the blowout, laying bare the difference of opinions between MoEF and Petrobangla.

“The compensation claim by MoEF is totally ridiculous, as such an incident is not a regular phenomenon and occurs only rarely,” he said.

However, compensation for such environmental damages from a gas blowout is not without precedent.

In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ruled against Chevron after it caused massive environmental damages in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.

The court ordered the exploration company to pay $19bn dollars for its destructive operations in the jungle during 1964-1990.

Present situation

The Magruchhara gas field is currently being explored by Chevron, after it was handed over to the latter via Unocol from Occidental. Chevron explores around 1.8m cubic metres of natural gas daily from various fields in Moulvibazar.

In 1997, Bangladesh Environmentalist Lawyer’s Association (Bela) filed a writ petition to the High Court against Occidental along with the related agencies of the government, seeking legal intervention in the matter.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of Bela, said there has been no headway because of the lack of cooperation between government offices, and their negligence.

The petition also failed to get a court notice with necessary guidelines on the matter, she said.

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