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Will Pakistan's Kirthar National Park survive multinationals' gas exploration efforts?

By Muddassir Rizvi
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

green groups in Pakistan are making last-ditch efforts to save the country's largest wildlife sanctuary, Kirthar National Park in Sindh, from multinational oil exploration companies. Plans are underway to explore three trillion cubic metres of natural gas that is believed to be hidden in the porous rocks of the protected area. Supported by the government, Shell Pakistan and British Premier Oil Limited have already initiated pre-exploration activities within the precincts of the park, 150 km northeast of the port city of Karachi.

Environmentalists say this is against the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972, which prohibits "clearing or breaking up of any land for cultivation, mining or any other purpose." Foqia Sadiq Khan, advocacy officer at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute ( sdpi ), says, "In addition to the 1972 law, the Sindh Wildlife Amendment Act 1993 and a notification by the Sindh government provide an ironclad constitutional safeguard to protected areas." sdpi is part of an informal alliance of environmental groups opposing exploration in the park, which includes the World Conservation Union ( iucn ). The park is home to several rare or threatened fauna, including the Sindh ibex, urial sheep and the chinkara gazelle.

Shell-Premier, a joint venture of Premier Oil and Shell Oil, claimed that modern mining technologies leave no ground for fear of adverse environmental impact. The greens argue that if mining-related accidents can occur in the most advanced countries, their likelihood in a developing country is far greater. "We don't know what technology they are going to use. They could use magic wands for all we care, but the goal remains illegal and morally unacceptable," said Aly Ercelawn, a Karachi-based environmentalist. There are fears that the Sindh government wants Kirthar-specific amendments to the law to permit exploration in the park.

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