YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar was set to open a conference Wednesday aimed at attracting foreign investment in its largely untapped oil and gas resources as recent reforms raise hopes that sanctions will be lifted. The two-day event will offer “clear directives and balanced perspectives on the opportunities ahead in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector,” said the Centre for Management Technology, co-organizer along with the energy ministry. Myanmar has 3.2 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves and 11.8 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, and in January awarded 10 onshore oil and gas blocks to eight companies, CMT said on its website. It said Myanmar was now looking at inviting bids for nine offshore blocks. These energy resources have already attracted substantial investment from China and India but U.S. and European sanctions have largely kept Western companies out of the game. “Whilst awaiting the expected removal of economic sanctions,” international firms “are planning and preparing for their participation in the lucrative oil and gas deals,” CMT said. But pressure group Oilwatch Southeast Asia said increasing investment in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector would cause “more harm than good to the country.”
Myanmar earned nearly US$3 billion from energy sales over the 2011-12 fiscal year, said the group, which represents communities affected by such projects. “Investment in Burma’s oil and gas sector is not benefiting people of Burma nor the country’s sustainable economic development,” group coordinator Clemente Bautista said in a statement. “As long as there is military rule and no democracy in Burma, there will be no transparency and accountability in the oil and gas industry,” Bautista said. The military handed over power last year to a nominally civilian government dominated by its political proxies. The new regime has however surprised critics by undertaking a series of reforms, including freeing political prisoners and signing peace deals to end long-running insurgencies.