Major Australian energy firm Woodside announces Myanmar pullout

Major Australian energy firm Woodside announces Myanmar pullout

Australian petroleum company Woodside operates multiple exploration and drilling sites in Myanamar.
Australian petroleum company Woodside operates multiple exploration and drilling sites in Myanamar.

SYDNEY: Australian energy firm Woodside announced its withdrawal from junta-run Myanmar on Thursday, the latest company to head for the exit following a military coup last year.

"Woodside has decided to withdraw from its interests in Myanmar," the company said in a statement to shareholders after nine years of operating in the country.

The Perth-based petroleum giant cited "the deteriorating human rights situation" as part of the reason for the move, which will cost the company at least US$200 million.

The exit, which comes amid building international pressure on the junta, follows energy majors TotalEnergies and Chevron announcing their departures last week.

Woodside operates multiple exploration and drilling sites in Myanmar, where a military junta ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's government last February, sending the neighbouring country into turmoil.

Junta opponents -- including allies of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy -- have gone into hiding, and "People's Defence Forces" have sprung up across the country to take on the military.

More than 1,500 people have died in the subsequent military crackdown and 11,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

"Given the ongoing situation in Myanmar, we can no longer contemplate Woodside's participation in the development of the A-6 gas resources, nor other future activities in-country," said chief executive Meg O'Neill.

A-6 is a deepwater gas project off Myanmar's west coast in partnership with Total.

The US government this week warned companies worldwide that doing business with Rangoon ran "the risk of engaging in conduct that may expose them to significant reputational, financial, and legal risks."

Investors and traders were warned specifically to avoid state-owned enterprises, the gems and precious metals sector, real estate and construction projects, and the arms business.

Myanmar's gas industry is estimated to be worth about US$1 billion a year.

The Western firms' departure will at least temporarily deprive the junta of hundreds of millions of dollars a year in foreign revenue at a time when the economy is under severe strain.

Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch in Australia, said Woodside's departure "underscores the urgent need for coordinated, targeted sanctions" aimed at the regime's natural gas revenues.

Thailand's state-owned PTT and South Korea's POSCO are among the companies that maintain operations in the country.

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