By The Nation
The groups, led by Dr Kamolpan Cheewansri, submitted a petition to Sangad Pattawee, Office of the Ombudsman’s Deputy Secretary-General.
The petition said Energy Minister Narongchai Akrasanee, Energy Ministry permanent secretary Areepong Bhoocha-oom and Department of Mineral Fuels director-general Kurujit Nakornthap may have committed constitutional offences by giving approval to the 21st round of bidding for petroleum concessions for 29 fields in 16 provinces.
They said the three officials made a false claim that oil and natural gas had been depleted and that as a result the government would be forced to increase the price of oil and cooking gas.
The petition said the officials did not follow due process and resorted to nepotism. Their actions were in violation of Article 4, 5 and 27 of the 2014 charter and Article 152 and 157 of the Criminal Code. They also accused the officials of distorting information for vested interests.
Kamolpan said according to reports released by Chevron, the size of natural gas excavation in Thailand is second only to the United States. The Department of Mineral Fuels’ reports also showed that 84 per cent of land was yet to be explored, which was the opposite of what the three officials claimed.
The concessionaires’ business operation report showed that they had made up to hundreds of billions of baht from Bt200 billion investment.
The latest concession also allowed the concessionaires to freely report how much fuel they had found without having to go through checks. She said the government must be able to check the amount of gas found so that it can opt to use ownership sharing with gas explorers.
Kamolpan claimed the officials distorted the truth regarding the price of cooking gas by saying that the gas cost was Bt20 per kilogram. She said reports released by the Department of Mineral Fuels showed that the cost was actually Bt9.5 per kilogram. Thailand can produce 79 per cent of its natural gas domestically and import 21 per cent.
PTT’s subsidiaries have been able to buy natural gas at cheaper prices than the public. “This is a cover up regarding LPG gas. It is not right that the state uses resources that are supposed to belong to the public to support the petrochemical industry,’’ she said.
Sangad said if the Ombudsman found the officials might have committed constitutional offences, it would seek a Constitution Court ruling.
National Reform Council (NRC) member Rosana Tositrakul yesterday praised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for his decision to suspend the extension of the 21st round of bidding for petroleum concessions, pending the NRC discussion.
She said that the country had yet to resolve the business models to be used with oil companies. She said the decision must be made carefully because the extension of the contracts would result in the country having 39 years of legally binding commitment with oil companies.
She said Thailand should use the standard models adopted by other Asean countries.
She said the NRC might take about two months to come up with the right business model with oil companies.
She said the PM had been misinformed that energy could be depleted in eight years, which was not true. “The truth is concessions of the two energy sources would expire,’’ she said.
NRC member Saree Aongsomwang supported the PM’s decision to suspend the contract extension, saying the country must resolve conflicts on the energy issues before concessions were granted. Otherwise, it would be too late to correct what went wrong, she said.
The 21st round of bidding for petroleum concessions both on- and off-shore had been put on hold since 2012 because of the political turmoil.