September 4, 2001 – Premier Oil and the military Government of Pakistan will tomorrow face a legal challenge in a Karachi court over plans to explore for gas in the country’s oldest national park. Local NGOs are questioning whether the British company has been using its influence with the Pakistani military authorities, to secure a weakening of wildlife legislation and so win approval for its exploration plans.

Premier Oil has already been severely criticised for its controversial operations in Burma. Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has said: “Premier Oil is not only supporting this military government financially, it is also giving it moral support, and doing a great disservice to the cause of democracy. It should be ashamed of itself”.

Now the company is poised to start gas exploration in Pakistan’s Kirthar National Park, one of Pakistan’s largest protected areas, stretching over 3087 square kilometres of rugged mountain desert in the southern province of Sindh. It is home to numerous threatened species such as the unique Sindh ibex (a mountain goat) and the Urial sheep, and to desert wolves, striped hyena, golden jackal,”Chinkara” (a type of gazelle), and no less than eight species of eagle. It is also considered essential for the water supply of the 14 million people in nearby Karachi.

At the start of this year, Kirthar still enjoyed strict protection under Pakistan’s wildlife laws. Section 15 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance clearly prohibited the “…clearing or breaking up of any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purpose” in the park.

Undeterred, Premier submitted their gas exploration plans, in the form of an Environmental Impact Assessment (or EIA). Local NGOs quickly challenged this EIA in the Karachi courts, but in written evidence submitted to the court, Premier sought to play down environmental fears by citing examples of where the oil and gas industry had, it claimed, operated in “harmonious coexistence” and “perfect harmony” with the environment [1].

In response, Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest environmental network, submitted a 380-page dossier of evidence to the contrary, including a detailed synopsis of the appalling environmental and human rights abuses associated with the industry in Nigeria.

But, while waiting for the case to be heard, the relevant laws were amended. Under the current military regime in Pakistan, key Government officials can amend legislation without reference to Parliament. In June, the Governor of Sindh province, Mohammed Mian Soomro – a director of an oil company until he became governor last year – amended the relevant wildlife law so that it would not apply:

“…to any activity in a national park in connection with the exploration or production of oil and gas which is undertaken in accordance with an environmental impact assessment”. [2]

Now, Premier has submitted new documents to the court arguing that the petition submitted by NGOs (including FOE) should be thrown out because it has become “infructious”.

Friends of the Earth have today written to Prime Minister Tony Blair about Premier Oil’s behaviour in Pakistan. In a month’s time, Mr Blair will be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOG) Conference, in Brisbane, Australia. At the 1999 CHOG meeting, leaders agreed the “Fancourt Commonwealth Declaration on Globalisation and People-Centred Development” which they affirmed their commitment “To the pursuit of greater transparency, accountability, the rule of law and the elimination of corruption in all spheres of pubic life and in the private sector.”

Craig Bennett, Corporates Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “Premier Oil’s operations in Burma, and now their outrageous behaviour in Pakistan shows that they couldn’t give the contents of an oil sump for local people or their precious environment. The company is triumphantly branding itself as a dodgy, dirty British corporation – flying the flag for corporate irresponsibility.

Friends of the Earth is today calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to ensure that corporate behaviour and accountability is high on the agenda of next months Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference”.

Photos of Kirthar National Park are available on request.

[1] Extracted from the Affidavit filed in the High Court of Sindh, Karachi, Pakistan, by “Premier & Shell Pakistan B.V. Holland through Premier Exploration Pakistan Ltd”, Constitutional Petition number 1986/2000.
[2] Extracted from Section 3 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Second (Amendment) Ordinance 2001.

Craig Bennett: craigb [at]
Paul de Clerck: [at]
Mae Ocampo: campaign [at]