May 9, 2001 – Shell is dropping plans to explore for gas in Kirthar National Park in Pakistan. The oil giant has announced a “re-alignment of their Pakistan business portfolio”. The sudden move has been greeted with delight by Friends of the Earth International, which was pursuing a major legal case against Shell in the Pakistani courts.
Kirthar National Park is 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.
Shell and Premier Oil had formed a joint venture company (Premier-Shell Pakistan) to explore for gas in the park, despite its protected status under Pakistani wildlife laws. Section 15 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance states that the “…clearing or breaking up of any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purpose” is prohibited.
Friends of the Earth International was concerned that Shell was seeking to avoid respecting the wildlife law. Under the current military regime in Pakistan, laws can be amended without reference to Parliament. Earlier this year, the Governor of Sindh province, Mohammed Mian Soomro – a director of Shell-Pakistan until he became Governor last year – amended the wildlife laws to allow pipeline construction in the park. The oil minister in the Federal military Government, Usman Aminuddin, is a former director of a Shell subsidiary.
Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), the world’s largest environmental network, last month joined Pakistani environment groups in a legal challenge against Shell in a bid to protect wildlife in the park from big business. In written evidence to the court, Royal Dutch Shell had sought to play down environmental fears by citing examples of where it claims the oil and gas industry has operated in “harmonious coexistence” and “perfect harmony” with the environment . But FOEI last month 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.
Shell has now announced that it will be swapping its controversial 49.9% holding in Premier-Shell-Pakistan for a Premier holding in an alternative Pakistan gas development project. The Bhit development is in the so-called “Kirthar concession”, but nowhere near Kirthar National Park.
Shell’s announcement is likely to shift attention from Shell to Premier Oil, which is already facing controversy over its operations in Burma. But Shell still has a stake in other controversial projects, including exploration for oil and gas in the Sunderbans region of Bangladesh – home to endangered tigers.
Craig Bennett, Habitats Campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “We’re delighted that Shell has dropped plans to explore for gas in Pakistan’s oldest protected area. But we’re outraged that Premier Oil are still prepared to exploit this fantastic wildlife haven. Shell must now scrap its plans for oil exploration in tiger territory in Bangladesh. Shell should avoid making these damaging decisions in the first place. It should give a cast-iron guarantee to stay out of protected areas, and to invest the money in renewable energy instead”.
Farhan Anwar, of the Pakistani NGO Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, said: “Exploration for gas in Kirthar National Park is illegal. Pakistani law clearly prohibits any kind of mining or exploration activity in protected areas. We welcome the fact that Shell has now pulled out. But how on earth can Premier Oil defend its intention to stay? We call on British investors in Premier to demand that this company starts taking its social and environmental responsibilities seriously”.
Notes to editors:
 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.
Photos of Kirthar National Park are available, by email, on request. (Including a photo of a sign at the entrance of Kirthar National Park which clearly states that the “Clearing or breaking up of any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purpose” is prohibited.)
FoE England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 44 20 7566 1667
Pager: 07654 588 862
Paul de Clerck
Tel: 31 20 550 7300