Australia’s Woodside Petroleum pulls out of Myanmar projects

BANGKOK (AP) — Australia’s Woodside Petroleum is withdrawing from projects in strife-torn Myanmar, following a similar decision last week by Total and Chevron.

Woodside put all its Myanmar activities under review after the military seized power a year ago, deposing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and triggering mass public protests that security forces have countered by escalating violence.

Woodside said Thursday it has already relinquished some of its exploration permits in Myanmar and is preparing to end other operations there.

Continuing work in Myanmar was “no longer a viable option,” Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill said in a statement.

France’s Total and Chevron said Friday they were exiting Myanmar, citing rampant human rights abuses and deteriorating rule of law since the military takeover.

The two companies had come under increasing pressure over their roles in running an offshore gas field, along with state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) and Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production.

Total has a majority stake in the venture and runs its daily operations, while MOGE collects revenues on behalf of the government. Human rights groups have cautioned that the divestment of foreign companies will not necessarily cut off funding to the military administration without further action since MOGE remains a key part of such operations and Thailand’s government has not backed sanctions against the military.

About 50% of Myanmar’s foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, with MOGE expected to earn $1.5 billion from offshore and pipeline projects in 2021-2022, according to a Myanmar government forecast. Prior rounds of U.S. and European sanctions against the Myanmar military have excluded oil and gas.

PTT Exploration & Production, the Thai company, said after the announcements by Chevron and Total that it was examining its options. It said it was prioritizing energy security for Thailand and Myanmar and preventing impacts on people in both countries.”

Companies in various industries have been withdrawing from Myanmar amid warnings sanctions may expand beyond the targeted ones imposed by the U.S. and other Western countries after the coup, increasing the risks of doing business in or with other businesses in Myanmar, even if they are not state-owned or linked to the military.

An advisory issued Wednesday by the U.S. departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and U.S. Trade Representative’s office warns of wide risks associated with many sorts of dealings, including imports of garments and other products that might be associated with forced or child labor.

It advised businesses and financial institutions to step up their safeguards to prevent involvement in financing sanctioned people or military entities, money laundering and other violations.

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