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Down to Earth No.82, September 2009

NGOs accused of 'crying wolf' over Tangguh human rights risks

The giant Tangguh gas project in Bintuni Bay, West Papua, has now started exporting LNG, amid continuing concerns about social and environmental impacts.

After many delays, the Tangguh project, operated by UK oil multinational, BP, has begun production, with the first shipments of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) delivered to China and South Korea in July 2009. There is much at stake for many people in this operation, not least for the local communities who will be regularly seeing tanker ships ferrying LNG away from their shores. They and the wider Papuan community have been sold this project on promises of development and improved welfare. However, as income starts to flow from this project, concerns about increased militarisation, threats to livelihoods and resource rights persist.

Tangguh has contracts to supply 2.6 million tonnes of LNG per year to the Fujian gas terminal in China, 1.15 million tonnes a year to South Korea's K-Power and POSCO and up to 3.7 million tonnes a year to Sempra's Baja California terminal in Mexico.1

TIAP's mission-fatigue?

The Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel (TIAP) was set up in 2002 and given the remit of helping BP achieve its potential to become 'a world class model for development'. With its latest report (7th TIAP report) and round of stakeholder meetings, the current committee of 4 members has completed its tenure. They have recently shown signs of fatigue: perhaps years of trying to perform the nigh-on impossible task of matching big business with sustainable development has taken its toll.

The London TIAP meeting was held on the 19th May 2009 and was attended by NGOs and civil society activists, as well as BP staff and other representatives of the private sector. One of the NGO representatives was Yan Christian Warinussy, director of LP3BH a legal advocacy organisation based in Manokwari, West Papua. After presentations by the panel and by various BP officials, questions were raised about the project's social and livelihood problems, environmental, security and human rights, land rights, transparency of revenue flows and concerns regarding the wider political and economic context.

One response, by TIAP member Lord Hannay, to a question regarding the Integrated Community Based Security system (ICBS) employed at the Tangguh project, showed clearly how this current panel appears to have lost its objectivity. John O'Reilly, himself a former BP manager in Indonesia and Colombia, raised concerns over the increased presence of the Indonesian military in Bintuni Bay and the associated human rights risks. He asked if and how lessons will be learned from past experiences both here and elsewhere at BP. Lord Hannay's response was to accuse him and others present of repeatedly saying that the ICBS 'will never work' and of, over the years, 'crying wolf' over the increased militarisation of the area. He maintained that the 'wolf hasn't come' and that such predictions were apocalyptic and lacking belief in the successful implementation of this system of community-based security. This exchange revealed a lack of seriousness on the part of Hannay about the potential for human rights violations. There is a certain irony that the concern was raised by one of the initial designers of the ICBS itself.

In a letter to Tony Hayward, the Chief Executive of BP, a number of NGOs present at the TIAP meeting asked for clarification on this issue, and pointed out that similar concerns had been expressed by the TIAP panel itself. 2

The letter said that "there is always the risk that human rights will be threatened if the TNI [Indonesian armed forces] decides to intervene in a heavy-handed manner in response to a particular incident or situation for whatever reason."3

"Back to Petroleum"

Since the departure of former CEO Lord Browne, BP seems to be making retrogressive steps on the environment and sustainability. Not only has BP invested in the Canadian Tar Sands in Canada (a particularly environmentally damaging form of oil extraction), but it has recently cut alternative energy funding from US$1.4 billion in 2008 to US$1 billion in 2009.

As a consequence, it appears that BP's alternative energy managing director, Vivienne Cox, has resigned, leading the UK's Guardian newspaper to quip that BP was no longer looking to move "beyond Petroleum" (as BP's logo said at one time), but "back to Petroleum". 4

Given the urgent need for real sustainability and the dangers of the changing climate, there remains a lack of leadership and willingness to face these issues within the energy sector itself.

BP's insistence on developing the Bintuni Bay gasfield, despite its high levels of CO2 content and the company's reluctance to engage in the debate around Carbon Capture and Storage 5 underlines the fact that BP is refocusing on its core businesses.

Reality gap

BP's rhetoric and the reality of the situation on the ground in Papua was highlighted by Yan Christian Warinussy from LP3BH at the TIAP meeting. Pak Yan spoke with force about the need for BP to improve its communication with the local community and to have a real dialogue with local communities (rather than a managed one). He emphasised that Papua is a region where human rights violations are endemic.

In response to concerns raised about compensation and responsibility for the wider situation in Papua, Pak Yan added his voice to others who had called for BP to take some responsibility for the wider situation in Papua.

He warned that, despite money and programmes provided for the directly affected villages, without greater clarity and real dialogue there was a strong risk that BP would become a source of conflict rather than a source of development.

Following this, Down to Earth raised the issue of the Immeko communities from the North shore of Bintuni Bay, who believe that the gasfields are located and drawn from underneath their lands. The head of BP Indonesia (William Linn)'s response to this was an unsatisfactory "to the best of my knowledge, the gas in not under the Immeko lands".

BP and TIAP were equally evasive on the question of adat (customary) law and indigenous Papuans' perceptions that they are the rightful owners of the natural resources in their areas, including gas reserves. Lord Hannay claimed that BP was constrained by Indonesian law and therefore could not get involved in claims relating to customary land.

The gap between indigenous views of the reality in Papua and those of the government and multinationals like BP remains a principle cause for ongoing conflict.

Recent violence, including a series of shootings near the Freeport-Rio Tinto copper and gold mine show that these disparities continue to engender conflict, whether rooted in local indigenous community opposition or caused by the presence of security forces in the vicinity of the project.

BP always makes strenuous efforts to distance itself from previous examples of big business intervention in Papuan lives which have resulted in serious human rights abuses (see brief report on recent violence near the Freeport-Rio Tinto mine, below). However, as the continuing concerns of NGOs both in Papua and internationally underline, there remains the constant risk that things could turn very ugly in Bintuni Bay also.


The new TIAP panel, chaired by former United States Senator Chuck Hagel and Augustinus Rumansara was announced by BP in July.6 Augustinus Rumansara has worked for Papuan NGOs as well as BP, and more recently for the Asian Development Bank. TIAP II will have its work cut out: advising BP on steering Tangguh through its first years of production and LNG exports and, at the same time, presenting a positive picture on social and environmental impacts is no easy task.

However, it is the local communities who must bear the greatest risks with this project. They continue to face drastic changes to their customary lands, their environment, livelihoods, and must cope with expanding local administration, an increase in security personnel in their area and increased pressure on local natural resources.

It remains to be seen how far BP's community development programmes and the eventual flow of revenues into Papua can compensate for these changes imposed on Bintuni Bay and its peoples.

1, [accessed 1/Sep/09]
2 Eg, the 2008 TIAP report, p20, via
3 Letter to Tony Hayward, 26 June 2009. Signatories include DTE.
5 See DTE 80-81
6 See [accessed 1/Sep/09].

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