Southern landbridge resuscitated

Southern landbridge resuscitated

Plans aim to bulk up strategic oil reserve

New Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal vows to move ahead with plans to construct the southern landbridge or oil pipeline linkage between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

At his first day in office as energy minister, the close aide of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday the project will help enable the government to fulfil its planned strategic oil reserve to 90 days of daily consumption from 36 days at present.

The landbridge idea has been circulating for more than 20 years. Former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan floated the idea in 1989. The National Economic and Social Development Board completed the project's master plan in 1992.

The project was revived by the Thaksin Shinawatra government, but shelved after the devastating tsunami hit Thailand in 2004.

Earlier versions of the landbridge project called for the construction of infrastructure and supporting facilities such as a rail and land transport network and an oil pipeline from the Sichon District in Nakhon Si Thammarat to Tap Lamu, Phang Nga.

The project would also draw massive new investment, especially for tank farms, oil refining plants, and related petrochemical industries.

However, the earlier versions ran into heavy opposition from communities and environmentalists concerned about the heavy concentration of industrial and oil-related complexes on the Andaman and Gulf coasts.

Mr Pongsak said the new plan for the landbridge would allow overseas investors to participate.

In a related development, the new minister has assigned nation oil conglomerate PTT Plc to study the feasibility of expansion of oil pipeline development to rural areas from the existing oil pipeline running from Map Ta Phut, Rayong and Si Racha to Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok and Don Mueang airport.

He also said the ministry is committed to going ahead with plans to float the prices of liquefied petroleum gas and would rather give a direct subsidy to lower income people.

"We're studying how to give a direct subsidy to low-income earners through an energy credit card programme that we will issue next year," said Mr Pongsak.

Thailand has been subsidising LPG prices for decades and now the price is fixed at US$333 per tonne, while on the global market it costs $850.

Since 2008, the government's subsidy programme for LPG prices through the state Oil Fund has totalled over 100 billion baht.

In the power sector, Mr Pongsak said fuel diversification in power generation would proceed as planned in order to secure the energy supply and prevent the possibility of gas disruption.

By 2030, total power generation capacity is expected to rise to 40,000 megawatts from 30,000 MW now.

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