Police fire on Unocal protesters

Down to Earth No. 47, November 2000

Twenty three people were injured when police moved in to break up a protest blockade at Unocal's oil and gas terminal in East Kalimantan.

Seven protesters were injured by bullet wounds and a further sixteen were seriously injured when beaten and kicked by police, who broke up the protest on October 8th. Around 300 local people from Marangkayu, Terusan and Rapak Lama villages near Unocal's Tanjungsantan terminal had blocked access to the site since September 25th, according to mining advocacy network, JATAM. The East Kalimantan police have claimed that only three people were injured and only one of those from rubber bullet wounds in the leg.

The villagers were protesting against the US-based company's failure to meet demands for compensation or deal with pollution problems. JATAM has launched a letter-writing protest action in response to the police brutality (see details below).

Local people were forced to give up their land for the oil and gas project after Unocal secured its production-sharing contract with state-owned oil company Pertamina in 1968. Since then, farmland and shrimp ponds have been damaged by pollution on several occasions. The most recent of these was in February this year when a spillage from the terminal's waste facility flooded fields and ponds, contaminating rivers and beaches near the terminal. Several laboratory tests have shown unacceptable levels of toxics in the local water which make it unsafe for consumption. (see DTE 45 for more background). In April Bambang Yudhoyono - then minister for mines and energy, now co-ordinating minister for politics, social and and security affairs - promised to address the concerns expressed by the community and local NGOs, but nothing came of this commitment.

In May, 31 villagers representing the people of Marangkayu village submitted a "Statement of opinion and demands" to the provincial assembly in East Kalimantan. The statement said the company had broken promises to provide community facilities and was responsible for environmental damage. Included in the statement were the demands to stop manipulating information and distorting the facts and to apologise to the community for doing so. The statement also called on the government to take action against the company and suspend operations until the pollution was stopped and the dispute with the community was resolved. The government should close the operation down for good, said the villagers, if Unocal failed to comply.

The company has failed to acknowledge responsibility for the pollution and has rejected the community's demands for fair compensation. In August the company did agree to pay some money to farmers whose 417.5 hectares of land was affected by a pollution incident 2 years previously, but this would be in the form of a 'donation' (santunan) not compensation.

(Detikworld 9/Oct/00; JATAM 11/Oct/00; Suara Kaltim 29/Apr/00; Kompas 18/Aug/00; 'Statement of Opinion and Demands of the people of Marangkayu' 9/May/00; Jakarta Post 10/Oct/00)


Indonesia needs Unocal!

Instead of addressing community demands, Unocal has been busy publicising its status as one of Indonesia's 'top investors' and the strength of its 'commitment' to Indonesia. Two days before the police action against the protesters at Tanjungsantan, the company paid a visit to President Wahid to hammer home this message. It announced it had invested US $1.5 billion to develop oil, gas and geothermal energy for the 1997 - 2002 period and called on the government to provide security for oil and gas operations in Indonesia to improve investor confidence.

In September the company announced with partners Exxon-Mobil that it would spend $700 million developing the West Seno offshore field in East Kalimantan. This should produce 70,000 barrels per day by 2002.

Unocal has concessions of 20,700 ha in Indonesia including two offshore operations in Kalimantan and nine land-based operations. Its gas exports go to Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

(Indonesian Observer 21/Sep/00; Jakarta Post 10/Oct/00)


Environmental award

While the decades-long pollution problems were festering at Tanjungsantan, Unocal was being publicly rewarded by the Indonesian government for its environmental work. In July, Unocal, along with Pertamina and the City of Balikpapan, were awarded the prestigious Kalpataru environmental prize for its reforestation and rehabilitation project started 12 years ago in the area around Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. In what can only be a further slap in the face for the Tanjungsantan villagers, Unocal's Robert Hinkal said the company was "committed to improving the lives of people wherever we work."
(Indonesian Observer 5/Jul/00)

Protest letters

Letters faxes or emails protesting against police brutality against local people and supporting the community's demands should be addressed to:

Roger C Beach (Chairman and CEO)
Unocal Corporation
2141 Rosecrans Ave. Ste 4000
El Segundo, CA 90245, USA
Phone: +1 310-726 7600
Fax: +1310-726-7817

Timothy C. Lauer
(President and Managing Director) Unocal Indonesia Company
Sentra Senayan I Office Tower, 11th Floor
Jl. Asia Afrika No. 8
Senayan, Jakarta 10270
Tel: +62 21 573 1020
Fax: +62 21 573 1030
Email: tclauer@unocal.com

Please send copies to JATAM: jatam@jakarta.wasantara.net.id

Protests at Caltex

In Riau province, Sumatra, another US-based company, Caltex, was forced to cut production in August when local people, protesting against the scarcity of jobs at the company, staged occupations of some of the company's oil rigs and took company vehicles. Reports in October said that one rig was still occupied, but that the protests had mostly ended. The company earlier promised to give 75 temporary jobs to local people.

The company's environmental record came under public attack too, when a local NGO LPHI criticised its use of detonations in oil exploration.

Caltex, a joint venture of Chevron Corp and Texaco Inc. produces up to 700,000 bpd from its Sumatra oil fields. In May its offices were attacked by students demanding a higher share of revenues for Riau. The Riau oil fields are also subject of a tussle between local and central government over who will exploit them in future.

(Indonesian Observer 16/Oct; Dow Jones Newswires 8&15/Oct/00; Jakarta Post 10/Oct/00; Detikworld 9/Oct/00)