WikiLeaks cables: Bangladesh Gas

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US nudged Bangladesh to allocate gas blocks

BS Reporter / New Delhi December 25, 2010, 0:15 IST

Every time India would ask Bangladesh for rights to explore gas, Dhaka would say the country had to first find if there was gas available at offshore locations. For the last one year, the issue hasn?t even been mentioned in discussions with Bangladesh, top petroleum ministry officials said. But India?s loss has been the US gain and it managed to walk away with the prize.
WikiLeaks tapes released late last night revealed how US-based ConocoPhillips was selected from a field of seven bidders and awarded two offshore blocks for exploring gas in 2009. The company was awarded a production sharing contract, with a provision to export the gas in the form of liquefied natural gas in the untapped areas of the Bay of Bengal. The bidders had agreed to stay away from disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal, something US Ambassador to Bangladesh, James Moriarty mentioned in his cables sent in July 2009. Conoco got the contract in October 2009.
Moriarty met Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina Wajed?s energy adviser, Tawfiq Elahi Chowdhury, and got him to assure that ConocoPhillips would be awarded two of the uncontested blocks and Chevron given permission to go ahead with the first of the three compressors necessary to improve flow in Bangladesh?s main gas pipeline. Within three months, the Bangladesh government complied.
Defending themselves against the charge that they had allowed the US to have an advantage by not being proactive themselves, Indian Petroleum Ministry officials said Indian finds of gas had reduced the pressure to secure gas from Bangladesh.
WikiLeaks tapes also revealed that Moriarty urged Chowdhury to approve plans by British company Global Coal Management (GCM) to begin open-cast coal mining in the country?s Phulbari area. In the cable, Moriarty quoted Chowdhury saying the coal mine was ?politically sensitive in the light of the impoverished, historically oppressed tribal community residing on the land?.
The energy advisor, however, agreed to build support for the project through the parliamentary process, Moriarty said in the cable.
In a cable posted by WikiLeaks that was sent in July last year, Moriarty said he had urged Chowdhury to authorise coal mining, adding ?open-pit mining seemed the best way forward?. Later on in the cable, Moriarty said, ?Asia Energy, the company behind the Phulbari project, has 60 per cent US investment. Asia Energy officials told the ambassador they were cautiously optimistic that the project would win government approval in the coming months.?
The ?Phulbari killings? as they are known took the lives of three boys in 2006 when police fired at a demonstration near the mine site. Asia Energy?s shares had crashed in the international market as a result and the company had to undergo a brand change, including a name changing.
In the WikiLeaks cables, Moriarty?s conversations with Indian ambassador Pinaki Ranjan Chakravatry, by contrast, revealed no discussions of a commercial nature, only a general approval by India of the change in government in Bangladesh and US endorsement of a joint South Asian task force on counterterrorism.
India?s high commissioner in Dhaka obligingly told the US ambassador that while India would ?prefer a primarily bilateral engagement?, Bangladesh might want a regional force for political reasons ? allegations that she was too close to India.
Chakravarty spoke of Bangladesh?s keenness to ?invest heavily in Bangladesh?s moribund railway system? including reconnecting the Bangladeshi railroad system to Agartala in Tripura. He said Indian companies would be interested in setting up power plants in Bangladesh, though the price of electricity ?is still under negotiation?. The US takeaway from the conversation is that regional counter-terrorism cooperation would help US assets enormously. Much of the rest is yet to become a reality

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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