Myanmar loosens grip on country’s lucrative oil sector


YANGON — Foreign firms will be granted full rights to Myanmar’s deepwater oil blocks, the energy ministry said Tuesday, a first in a lucrative sector once closely controlled by the corrupt former junta. Around 25 new offshore blocks will be opened for tender in April with oil majors such as BP, Woodside, Shell and Chevron “ready” to compete for them, Aung Kyaw Htoo, assistant director of the Ministry of Energy, told AFP.

Myanmar’s oil and gas industry, which analysts say accounts for some 34 percent of total exports, is seen as the engine of the nation’s growth as it emerges from decades of authoritarian army rule. In January Myanmar opened up a major portion of its onshore oil blocks for bids, attracting the fevered interest of Western firms who have been desperate to enter the energy sector after the end of sanctions against the once-pariah state. But that tender said foreign firms had to partner with state energy companies including the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which has come under fire — from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi among others — for lacking transparency in its dealings. Aung Kyaw Htoo said the huge cost of exploring potential offshore reserves, coupled with the technical skills needed to extract them, meant foreign firms could have full ownership. “There are not more than 20 companies in the world who can efficiently operate deep-sea blocks,” he said on the sidelines of an energy conference in Yangon. “Local companies are not financially strong enough to invest in offshore … the technology is too advanced also.” Foreign companies will however be restricted to three blocks each, he added. A dozen foreign companies are currently partnered with local firms in 27 existing offshore blocks, according to the ministry website, including French giant Total, which has been in Myanmar since 1992. The government has pledged to enforce transparency across the energy industry in an effort to reassure investors over corruption concerns and Myanmar’s people who want to see a return from the country’s natural resources.