PARIS – Total Energies and Chevron, two of the world’s largest energy companies, announced on Friday that they were halting all operations in Myanmar, citing widespread human rights abuses and the deterioration of the rule of law since the country’s military overthrew the elected government in February.
The announcement comes just a day after the French company called for international sanctions targeting the oil and gas sector, which remains one of the main sources of funding for the military government. It also comes a month after an Associated Press article on the mounting pressure of oil and gas sanctions against the two companies and resistance from the United States and France.
Total and Chevron had come under increasing pressure over their role in operating the Yadana offshore gas field, alongside state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) and Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production. Total owns a majority stake in the company and manages its day-to-day operations, while MOGE collects revenue on behalf of the government.
“The rule of law and human rights situation in Myanmar has clearly deteriorated over the months and despite civil disobedience movements, the junta has retained power and our analysis is that it is unfortunately for the long term,” Total said.
Since taking power, the army has brutally suppressed dissent, kidnapping young men and boys, killing health care workers and torturing prisoners.
A former Total employee in Myanmar who campaigned against the company’s ties to the military government said she was shocked but pleased with the decision, while acknowledging that it would be difficult to find work elsewhere.
“For the employees who still work for Total, it’s bad news even if they oppose the dictatorship or fight against the military. But for me as an ordinary person and not as an employee, I say it’s great news,” she told The News. Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she feared government reprisals.
Total said it would withdraw without financial compensation and cede its interests to other stakeholders.
About half of the country’s foreign currency comes from natural gas
Around 50% of Myanmar’s foreign exchange comes from natural gas revenues, with the MOGE expected to earn $1.5 billion from offshore and pipeline projects in 2021-22, according to Myanmar government forecasts. Previous rounds of US and EU sanctions against Myanmar’s military have excluded oil and gas. The Yadana field supplies gas to Myanmar and neighboring Thailand.
In a statement released shortly after Total’s announcement, Chevron said it also planned to leave “in light of the circumstances.” The company condemned the human rights abuses and said it would comply with any international sanctions. There was no specific timeline for Chevron’s exit, but Total said it expected his departure to be finalized within six months.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision.
“The next step is to ensure that gas revenues do not continue to fund these atrocities,” said Ken Roth, the organization’s executive director.
PTT Exploration & Production, the Thai company, said it was reviewing its options, prioritizing “Thailand’s and Myanmar’s energy security and preventing impacts on energy demand on people’s livelihoods.” inhabitants of both countries.
The Yadana field is expected to be depleted over the next few years and was nearing the end of its operations. The two companies had previously halted dividend payments for the project in Myanmar. But this decision had a limited impact on the revenues of the MOGE or the army-controlled government.
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