Thai Energy Minister optimistic over oil spill dispute with Indonesia

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BANGKOK, Sept 29 – Thai Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan on Thursday said Thailand is confident that its dispute over an oil spill at the Montara Field in the Timor Sea off Australia’s northern coast in 2009 will soon be settled.

Mr Pichai told the media that he had accompanied Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Indonesia on Sept 12 and met Indonesian officials regarding the oil leak and fire on the wellhead platform at the Montara Field.

He said the talks ran smoothly and Thailand expressed its readiness to compensate fishermen and local residents affected by the incident.

The minister expressed confidence that a solution could be found avoiding legal action which could involve compensation of more than Bt100 billion.

Thailand has made it clear that it would take full responsibility in the dispute, demonstrates its sincerity in maintaining positive ties with countries in the region as it strives to become the regional energy hub of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In Aug 2009, the Montara oil field developed by Seadrill, a Norwegian/Bermudan-owned company, and operated by PTTEP Australasia (a subsidiary of Thailand’s national petroleum exploration and production company PTTEP) caught fire and left a spill of 500,000 litres (1,200 barrels) of crude oil covering extensive areas of the Timor Sea for 74 days before it was brought under control and halted.

Mr Pichai said he also discussed development of natural gas in the Natuna block of the Greater Sarawak Basin, about 1,100km north of Jakarta and 225km northeast of the Natuna Islands, Indonesia’s northernmost territory in the South China sea.

The Thai firm had earlier expressed its interest in the field but decided not to pursue development given that it was not then viable for operations due to the high content of carbon dioxide, making it technically challenging and needing a high investment to extract the gas.

However, when oil prices are on a rising trend, Thailand expressed interest in reconsidering developing the field.