Tangguh in West Papua

Down to Earth No. 48, February 2001

The recent increase in tension in West Papua, punctuated by the murder of political prisoners and the arrest of independence leaders, has not stopped the transnational companies continuing with plans to exploit the territory's natural resources.

The giant Tangguh gas fields in off the north western coast, contain an estimated 20 trillion cubic feet of gas. The British American merger BP/Amoco (BP) plans to start production in 2005 and is seeking sales contracts in China. BP plans to build a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal in Shenzen, Hong Kong, if contracts are agreed. British Gas plc is also an investor in Tangguh, whose 2 fields are being developed under production sharing contracts with Pertamina.

BP also has a 50 percent stake in Indonesia's largest coal mining company PT Kaltim Prima Coal in Sangatta, East Kalimantan. The mine was forced to close during a labour dispute last year (see DTE 47). President Wahid has promised that the Tangguh project will benefit the people of West Papua, and has said the environment should be protected during the project's development.

In September last year, regional Bapedal chief Ali Kastella said the Tangguh project threatened thousands of hectares of mangroves forests in Berau Bay and said the company needed to consult local communities when planning exploration activities. Earlier in the year, it was reported that his office had called for a halt to further exploration at the project pending the results of an environmental impact analysis (see DTE 45).


EIA pilot project

Indonesia's environment minister, Sonny Keraf, has said that the Tangguh gas project will be a test-case for a new law which gives local people a legal voice in every proposed development project. Tangguh would be the "pilot project" for the law on community participation in environmental impact assessments, which was due to come into effect in November last year. According to Keraf's deputy, Ali Jumardi, local governments via regional and district environmental impact agencies (Bapedalda) would facilitate dialogue between developers and local people. Arbitration of disputes would be the responsibility of a "new mechanism" set out in a separate government regulation.

The EIA process has been mostly ignored or treated as a formality by developers until now. Local governments have almost always acted as agents of developers, often employing the security forces to subdue opposition to projects. It is unlikely that any new laws or regulations will have positive consequences for local communities, unless they include the right of local people to veto projects in their areas.
(Indonesian Observer 21&22/Sep/00; Jakarta Post 12/Jul/00, 9/Dec/00)