Khon Kaen locals protest gas flaring
Disappointed with the slow response from local agencies, a dozen Khon Kaen locals are back in the capital to appeal to the government as well as the US embassy to suspend "flaring" at natural gas exploration fields in their communities.
Flaring is the controlled burning of natural gas during routine production.
The residents of Na Mun-Dunsad in Khon Kaen's Kranuan district filed their petitions with the Energy Ministry's Department of Mineral Fuels and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onrep) yesterday.
They said they filed a petition with the provincial administrative court last Tuesday to seek temporary suspension of Apico (Khorat) Co's second flaring operation in the communities which was scheduled for last Wednesday.
The court said they would consider the case on Thursday, but the company has already started burning the underground gas, said Nattaporn Artharn, adviser to the Na Mun-Dunsad environmental group.
American-affiliated firm Apico (Khorat) also faced resistance from some residents last year when it wanted to conduct flaring at Dong Mun Gas field Unit 5 in Kalasin.
The environmental group appealed to the provincial energy official on Sept 16 and to the Khon Kaen governor on Oct 2 but there was no follow-up action from any government agencies to address community concerns over their health and the effects on their rubber trees.
Veerasak Pungrassamee, caretaker director-general of the Department of Mineral Fuels which granted the company its exploration licence, said flaring tests for gas exploration are an important process that must be conducted to evaluate the oil and gas reserves underground.
However, Mr Veerasak said the tests should be done under the environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework to ensure villagers are not affected.
"The department will take care of this issue and will monitor it thoroughly to protect villagers from being affected by the tests," he told reporters.
However, the villagers were disappointed the senior official did not receive the petition himself.
Songyos Saenkote, 51, said he wanted the agencies to check the local situation and hold the private firm to account.
Company representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Sukho Ubolthip and Damrong Kruepiboonkul, two senior officials from Onrep which considered the project's EIA, met the locals to listen to their grievances for an hour but maintained that the Department of Mineral Fuels was the core agency to ensure flaring operations are standardised.
"We will see if we can visit the community together with that agency at some point," the two officials said.
Kritmongkol Kaewprom, 60, said he would like to see better criteria for assessing environmental effects to minimise environmental impacts.
"No one came to advise on what to do if we smell gas, if we get rashes, or if our rubber trees die. They didn't consider that it was about the effects of underground heat," Mr Kritmingkol said.