Slipping out

Shell pulls out of the oil exploration venture in Pakistan's Kirthar National Park

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

multinational oil giant Shell has withdrawn from a project to explore gas in Pakistan's Kirthar National Park. The move has been hailed by environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth International ( foei ), which had filed a lawsuit in the Pakistani courts against the project.

Premier Oil of Pakistan has now agreed to buy Shell's 49.9 per cent holding in the joint venture. Kirthar National Park, located in the Sindh province, is one of Pakistan's largest protected areas. It is home to numerous threatened species, such as the Sindh ibex and the Urial sheep. Earlier this year, Mohammed Mian Soomro, the governor of Sindh province, had amended the wildlife laws to allow the construction of the pipeline in the park. Soomro was the director of Shell-Pakistan till last year.

"We're delighted that Shell has dropped its plans. But we're outraged that Premier Oil is still prepared to exploit this fantastic wildlife haven," rues Craig Bennett, habitats campaigner for foei. "Shell should avoid making these damaging decisions in the first place. It should also give a guarantee to stay out of protected areas and to invest the money in renewable energy instead," says Bennett.

Farhan Anwar of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, a non-governmental organisation says: "Exploration for gas in the Kirthar National Park is illegal. Pakistani laws clearly prohibit any kind of mining or exploration activity in protected areas. We welcome the fact that Shell has now pulled out. But how on Earth can Premier Oil defend its intention to stay?"

Shell said that the change in its stand is not related to the campaign against the project. "Since the middle of last year, we have been changing our emphasis on the concessions we have in Pakistan. We are moving out of exploratory concession in this park into something which is a bit nearer to fruition, the Bhit gas development project," officials of the company said. Shell's stake in the Bhit project -- also in Sindh province but not within a national park -- will now increase from 20 per cent to 28 per cent and Premier's stake will come down fr om 20 per cent to 12 per cent.

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