Don’t count on Thai project delays

I have been digging a little deeper into the Map Ta Phut issue and it looks like expectations of major delays to projects at the site were a little premature.

Construction has not stopped despite a ruling by Thailand’s Central Administrative Court to stop work on 76 projects at the site. The ruling was directed at the government which has so far not asked companies to halt work as all the projects have received environmental clearance. The government has now appealed to the Supreme Court and Thai companies are also planning to approach the court.

Although work is ongoing companies may not receive permission to commission their projects if the issue is not resolved quickly. The first of the major projects due at Map Ta Phut is PTT Chem’s 1m tonnes/year cracker. The company is still hoping to commission this at the end of the year though it is unlikely to run at full capacity until a new gas processing facility is brought onstream in first quarter of 2010. PTT Chem’s plan is carry out a maintenance shutdown at one of its smaller crackers to divert feedstock to the new cracker during the commissioning period.

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Pic source: Wikimedia Commons

Nobody is very clear on how quickly the government will be able to sort out the Map Ta Phut problem. I was told by one Thai analyst that anyone giving dates is surely bluffing. But he believed that it is likely to take months rather than years to work out a compromise.

The government is certainly under a great deal of pressure – investment, employment and GDP will be hit if projects at Map Ta Phut get delayed but at the same time it cannot afford to ignore the demands of the local people.

And what the people want is full implementation of Section 67 of Thailand’s 2007 constitution. This guarantees Thai people the right to participate with the State in preserving the environment and stop any project or activity which may damage the environment unless it has been evaluated and approved by an independent body made up of representatives from private environmental and health organisations.

But the government has yet to form an independent body or pass a law that companies can follow while seeking environmental clearance for their projects.

It will certainly do so now which means that companies will need to carry out a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) study besides the Environmental Impact Assessment study (HIA). And this, in the words of the analyst, will not only take more time but will also be a tougher hurdle to clear.

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