April 25, 2001 – Shell, and the military government of Pakistan, will today face a legal challenge in a Karachi court over plans to explore for gas in the country’s oldest national park. In written evidence submitted to the court, the oil giant has 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 [1].

But Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest environmental network with member groups in 66 countries, has today joined the legal challenge by submitting a 380-page dossier of evidence to the contrary. The evidence includes a detailed synopsis of the appalling environmental and human rights abuses associated with the company in Nigeria.

Royal Dutch Shell recently annoyed UK motorists and environmentalists alike by announcing record profits of US $13.11 billion (£9.04 billion), up 85% over the last year. It is now clear that the corporation is using this huge cash surplus, gained through high oil prices, to fund a massive expansion of exploration activities in the world’s most precious wildlife areas rather than investing in renewable energy technologies.

But in so doing, the oil multinational will come into conflict with environment groups both here and abroad. And the first big showdown is set to be over its plans for gas exploration in Kirthar National Park, Pakistan.

The park was established in 1974 and is one of of the country’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, as well as desert wolves, striped hyena, golden jackal ,”Chinkara” (a type of gazelle), and no less than eight species of eagle.

Kirthar is protected under Pakistanís wildlife laws. Section 15 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance clearly states that the ì…clearing or breaking up of any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purposeî is prohibited. The park is also classified by IUCN (the World Conservation Union) as a Category II protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation and designated to protect the ecological integrity of ecosystems and to exclude exploitation and it is included on the United Nations List of Protected Areas.

Concerns are high that Shell is trying to wriggle out of respecting the wildlife law, and the international status of the park. 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.

Shell has formed a joint venture with Premier Oil to manage the exploration programme in Pakistan. In March, they submitted an Environmental Impact Statement to Pakistani authorities as a prelude to undertaking exploration in Kirthar National Park.

But local NGOs have turned to the Karachi courts in a desperate attempt to halt the process, and have now been joined by Friends of the Earth International.

Craig Bennett, campaigner for Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “Shell and their partners Premier Oil have submitted plans that clearly contravene Pakistani wildlife law. They have done this because they arrogantly assume that they can use their influence to get their way. And now they are making outrageous claims that their activities around the world have little or no environmental impact.”

Paul de Clerck, campaigner for Friends of the Earth Netherlands, continued: “The oil industry still thinks it can spend billions looking for and exploiting new fossil fuel reserves, and doesn’t seem to care even when these are in the world’s most precious wildlife areas. At a time when the world must make huge cuts in carbon emissions, these mega- corporations must stop old-fashioned exploration and start investing properly in renewables. A good start would be to respect wildlife laws, and stop seeking to exploit protected areas.”

Note to editors:
[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.

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).

Craig Bennett
FoE England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 44 20 7566 1667
Pager: 07654 588 862
E-mail: craigb(at)foe.co.uk

Paul de Clerck
FoE Netherlands
Tel: 31 20 550 7300
E-mail: Paul.de.Clerck(at)milieudefensie.nl