Environment

Anti-Coal Power Plant Protest Called Off as Govt Scraps Plans

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on February 20, 2018

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai Ministry of Energy has signed agreement with them guaranteeing that the plans to build a coal power plant in Krabi have been officially shelved.

TRANSCRIPT

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai government has guaranteed that the plans to build a coal power plant have been officially shelved.

About 100 protesters have camped out in front of Bangkok’s United Nations building, even some of them going on hunger strike until the Thai military government would agree to their demands.

The proposal to build coal powered power plant in the southern provinces of Krabi on the andaman sea, which is a famous tourist spot famed for its beaches and underwater nature. Obviously a coal plant would have not only severely affected the region’s nature, but also the heath of the locals.

The government has previously insisted that additional power plants are necessary to keep up with rising energy demands in the south.

Now, there were plans by to march on government house earlier today but the situation has been ultimately defused as the Ministry of Energy and the protesters have come to an written agreement to ultimately scrap the plans for a coal power plant in the south.

It is a rare display of compromise by the Thai military government, which has outlawed public assemblies and protests ever since they took over powers in a coup. This protest coincides with other small but vocal protests against what could be yet another delay of democratic elections.

Among the protesters here, the mood is evidently jubilant and they are planning disperse and return to their homes in the south of Thailand knowing that the air and nature will be clean and free of a coal plant for the foreseeable future.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok

Villagers protesting Thai gold mine 'attacked by armed and masked men'

Large groups of masked and armed men have reportedly attacked locals blocking a road to a disputed gold mine in the northern Thai province of Loei last week, detaining and injuring several dozen villagers. While the numbers of assailants and victims vary in news reports, the descriptions do confirm a lot of common traits in the attackers:

Wearing black and white ski masks and armed with guns, knives and clubs, up to 400 men rounded up and beat 40 people, including women, in the Khao Luang district of Loei province near the northern border with Laos. (...)

"They covered villagers' eyes, bound their ankles and wrists and beat them black and blue. They treated us like we weren't human," one villager, Pauntip Hongchai, told Reuters by phone.

"Armed men attack Thai villagers to get to controversial goldmine", Reuters, May 16, 2014

Police have stepped in to ease tension at a village in Loei, where residents say they were attacked by more than 100 armed, masked men late on Thursday night.

Wielding iron bars and carrying knives and guns, the men attacked residents of Ban Na Nong Bong in Tambon Khao Luang, Wang Saphung district. Some victims say they were detained illegally until early yesterday.

Pornthip Hongchai, a prominent member of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group, said as many as 41 people were injured and one remained in hospital. (...)

Yon Khunna, who was watching out for the village on Thursday night, said the men tied his hands and beat him up for hours.  "I was released just at 4.30am," he said.

"Loei villagers claim armed mob attacked them over mine row", The Nation, May 17, 2014

About 300 armed, black-clad men reportedly broke up the protest, injured many of the villagers and handcuffed and detained about 40 of them.

Villagers said they were threatened at gunpoint and detained until about 4.30am on Friday, when the thugs dispersed after the last truck carrying ore had left.

Two local police officers arrived but did not dare take any action because they were greatly outnumbered  by the armed men, who fired threatening shots into the sky, villagers said.

"Loei villagers hurt trying to end mining", Bangkok Post, May 16, 2014

This again highlights the long-standing protest by locals of Na Nong Bong village in Loei province against the nearby gold mine operated by Tungkum Ltd, a subsidiary of Tongkah Harbour PCL, which publicly traded on the Thai Stock Exchange until its shares were suspended in 2012 for missing financial statement submissions and it was threatened with delisting.

The mine, located within one kilometer from the village, was built in 2006 and immediately locals noticed things drastically changed for the worse in the local environment. The Isaan Record reported back in 2011:

(...) When the mining company began digging, the villagers began to notice changes. They reported rashes and stinging eyes, plummeting crop yields, and higher cases of illness.

It was not until 2009, however, that news of the village made its first waves. To appease the protesting villagers, the Ministry of Health tested local water sources. They found high levels of contaminants and ordered villagers not to use the local water or eat affected vegetables and fish. Farmers who had traditionally relied on their land for nourishment were now asked to buy food and water from city markets.

Concerned about the health effects of the contaminated water, the villagers petitioned the Ministry of Health for blood tests. On February 2 of this year, the ministry published that 124 of 725 villagers had high levels of cyanide in their blood and 50 of 708 villagers had high levels of mercury. In just one week’s time, the [Abhisit] cabinet had paused Tungkum’s expansion.

"Fields of Mine: Na Nong Bong, Thailand", The Isaan Record, September 30, 2011

While this was a small temporary victory against the mine, environmental concerns regarding its tailing pond persisted in the following years and operations resumed. In October last year, a Tungkum executive was quoted as saying the gold mine "will shut down within five years" and move across border to Laos, even if it was given permission to expand.

Unsatisfied by the statement and after years of countless complaints going nowhere, the villagers of Na Nong Bong took matters into their own hands late last year and have built a roadblock preventing large trucks (mostly carrying copper) from leaving or entering the mine, resulting in numerous lawsuits against the protesting locals.

According to the villagers, a retired army officer appeared with a group of men last month demanding that the road be opened, which was taken as a threat and may or may not have been the precursor to last week's attack. Tensions at the mine remains high as a company checkpoint tent was found burned down on Friday and the villagers repeated their demand for police protection.

The controversy highlights the darker side of Thailand's recent hunger for gold, as it has become Southeast Asian's biggest consumer and just third in Asia behind China and India with demands rising to 58 per cent in Q2 of 2013. However, fresh forecasts are indicting that gold shipments this year may suffer a sharp drop as a direct result of Thailand's prolonged political crisis.

After the Thai oil spill clean-up, questions remain for PTTGC

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 4, 2013 Efforts to clean up a massive oil spill of the coast of Rayong province come under scrutiny by various environmental activists and agencies, as the company causing it is scrambling not only to contain the oil, but also a public relations disaster.

One week ago on Saturday night, an oil pipe line 35 km off Ko Samet, an island popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike, leaked at least 50 tons or nearly 50,000 litres of crude into the sea and over the course of the week drenched Ao Prao on the west of the island (see Bangkok Pundit's post here), parts of the mainland and a large oil slick at times bigger than the island itself swimming in between.

Satellite images from the Thai Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) show the the movement of the oil slick (green circles). The oil spill hit Ao Phrao on Ko Samet (red circles) and the mainland (purple circles), as the slick itself is seemingly gone by Friday. (GIF animation by Saksith Saiyasombut)

The operators of the leaking pipe line, PTT Global Chemical Plc (PTTGC) - a daughter-company of the state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc - assumed that the spill was quickly containable, but much later admitted to have underestimated an impending environmental disaster:

[PTT Global Chemical Plc (PTTGC) president Bowon Vongsinudom] said the company's oil spill handling team considered the situation "under control" on Sunday after 10 ships and an aeroplane from Singapore were deployed to tackle the slick. (...)

Mr Bowon said the company had already closed down its war room and staff members had packed up their belongings to return to Bangkok. On Sunday evening, a few hours after the war room was shut down, Mr Bowon was informed that globules of oil sludge were polluting the Ao Phrao shore.

"We were puzzled as to where this oil was from," Mr Bowon said. "It was huge. It is one of two puzzles that I cannot find the answers to yet. The first one is how the pipe broke in the first place. The other one is where did this oil come from."

He said the company immediately sent a team of about 40 workers to fight the sludge at Ao Phrao.

"PTT president thought slick under control", Bangkok Post, August 2, 2013

Hundreds of workers, consisting of the Thai Navy, other official agencies and volunteers were deployed to Ko Samet for the clean-up efforts, as tourists either relocated to the other side of the island, left it entirely and were discouraged to come here in the first place, while local fishermen are also severely affected by the spill.Facing a bigger problem than anticipated, PTTGC's reacted again:

PTTGC apologized on Monday and said the cleanup will likely be completed within three days.

"Thai oil spill spreads to new bay on resort island", Associated Press, July 30, 2013

It was safe to assume by this point that this was a highly ambitious goal. PR-wise, the black Monday continued later that day when - apparently oblivious to the current crisis - PTT launched a set of stickers promoting environmental awareness of the mobile instant messaging platform LINE, much to the public ridicule for the impeccable timing.

On Thursday, PTTGC took the PR-damage control head on and launched a dedicated website to the oil spill in both Thai and English (although the former has more frequent updates) and issued another apology. Furthermore, PTTGC pledged to have cleaned everything up "in seven days" now and promising "full compensation".

Nevertheless, many questions are left unanswered, particularly what chemicals were used in the clean-up.

PTTGC has remained silent about what chemicals it is using but also said they could pose a hazard to the environment and people's health. (...) Lack of information about the chemicals has prompted experts to pressure authorities and PTTGC to provide more details.

"Alarm bells sound over oil spill dispersant use", July 31, 2013

Initially, it was feared that PTTGC would be using the oil dispersant Corexit, which was prominently used in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Corexit breaks down floating oil slicks into small droplets that sink below the surface and even to the sea floor, effectively vanishing the oil it into the water rather than dissolving it. As a result, a study has shown an increased toxicity in the ecosystem after the usage of Corexit.

Almost immediately, PTTGC revealed on August 1 that they were using Slickgone NS TYPE 2/3, an internationally approved (by the Australian, UK and EU authorities) oil dispersant that works similarly to Corexit. However, there's some controversy over the amount that was used in the clean-up:

[Thailand's Pollution Control Department] Director general Wichien Jungrungruang said the company asked for permission to use 5,000 litres of the dispersant chemicals for the oil decomposition.

Nonetheless, PTTGC recently announced that it has so far already used 32,000 litres of chemicals to decompose the oil spill.

Mr Wichien said the company had not yet sought permission to release the over-regulation amount of chemicals. The director-general said the company should have, but he said the department understood that PTTGC needed to take immediate action to tackle the problem.

"PTTGC uses more chemicals than permitted to remove oil slick", MCOT, August 1, 2013

While the producer of Slickgone NS TYPE 2/3 recommends a ratio of 1 part oil dispersant to 20-30 parts of oil slick, PTTGC has evidently used over 6 times the amount more than they were initially allowed. Long-term effects of the spill and the clean-up have yet to reveal how damaging PTTGC's handling is. There has been no word yet of an investigation into this particular issue, but Thai authorities are already pressing for legal charges against the company.

It has been one week from hell for the state-owned oil and gas giant PTT dealing with the oil spill and the initial PR disaster as well. While PTTGC have been scrambling to provide information, but still have a lot of questions to answer for - and that at a time, when the mother company PTT just pledged to improve its public image.