October 6, 2001 – Premier Oil have survived round one in their contest with environmentalists over their plans to explore for gas in Kirthar National Park, Pakistan.

The Sindh High Court has dismissed the legal challenge brought by local campaigners and Friends of the Earth International because the relevant wildlife laws were dramatically weakened while the case was being considered. But Pakistani environmentalists have questioned whether Premier Oil were behind the sudden legal amendment made by the Pakistani authorities, and they are now planning to take the case to the Supreme Court in Islamabad – the highest court in the land.

Kirthar National Park is one of Pakistan’s largest protected areas, and home to numerous threatened species. It is also contains several important archaeological sites, and is 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. This was even displayed on a sign at the entrance to the park (photo available from FOE).

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, and were joined in the action by Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest environmental network.

But, while waiting for the case to be heard, the relevant laws were amended. Under the current 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”. [1]

At Thursday’s hearing court hearing in Karachi, the Chief Justice dismissed the case on technical grounds, citing the June amendment.

Farhan Anwar, Coordinator, Citizens Committee on Kirthar said: “We’re obviously disappointed by the Court’s decision – but not surprised. When this case started, Pakistan’s National Parks enjoyed strict protection under our wildlife law and it’s very clear that they still would – if only Premier Oil hadn’t arrived on the scene. It’s absolutely outrageous that the interests of this British company have come before Pakistani people and the environment. We are planning to appeal against the decision, by taking the case to the Supreme Court in Islamabad – the highest court in the land”.

Craig Bennett, Corporates Campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “Premier’s behaviour is nothing short of scandalous. They invited the creation of a legal loophole, and now they’re planning to drive their drilling equipment right through it. It just goes to show that big corporations are come first – both in the UK and Pakistan – with people and the environment coming far behind. Isn’t it about time that the UK government took control of those British corporations giving us flying the flag for corporate irresponsibility?”

Ian Willmore +44 (0)207 566 1657 (w) or +44 (0)7887 641 344 (mobile)
[1] Extracted from Section 3 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Second (Amendment) Ordinance 2001