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Key voices inside the government are opposing plans by the Srettha Thavisin administration to restart talks regarding the overlapping claim area (OCA) between Thailand and Cambodia. These talks aim to facilitate joint benefits from the resumption of petroleum production in the disputed region.
Senator Adm. Panlop Tamisanon voiced his opposition to the new government’s initiative to resume talks, initially initiated by the previous government.
The talks, ostensibly, seek to reach an agreement on benefit sharing from petroleum production within this contentious area. The primary goal was to reduce Thailand’s dependence on expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
In a recent policy announcement in parliament, the new government expressed its commitment to expedite the ongoing negotiations as part of its energy stability plans.
Thailand, a net oil and gas importer, has historically relied on imports to fulfill nearly 75% of its electricity, crude oil, coal, and natural gas requirements. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in a 40% surge in LNG prices, significantly impacting Thailand’s electricity prices due to its 29% reliance on imported LNG for power generation in 2022. This represents a stark contrast to the less than 14% reliance on gas for power generation in 2018.
Furthermore, ongoing threats of additional U.S. sanctions on Myanmar, following the 2021 coup, have cast further uncertainty over gas imports from the neighboring country.
Thailand’s increasing dependence on imported LNG is exacerbated by a 64% drop in production from the Erawan gas field in 2022, following its takeover by the state-owned PTT Exploration & Production from the U.S.-based Chevron Corporation.
The previous government had high hopes for the OCA, envisioning it as a new natural gas source in the upper Gulf of Thailand. Calls for OCA talks had been made previously during the Thaksin administration in 2001 and again in 2019 during a meeting of ASEAN energy ministers.
However, Panlop raised concerns that the exploration of the OCA would lead to disputes between Thailand and Cambodia. He argued that the OCA’s boundary is too extensive and violates the Convention on the Continental Shelf, of which both countries are co-signatories.
He highlighted that the OCA does not adhere to the convention’s “equidistance method” and contains points that are too close to Thailand. Notably, Cambodia’s draft territory in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) encroaches upon Thai territory at Koh Kood, contravening the rules set out by the Convention on the Continental Shelf.
Panlop emphasized that the OCA’s coverage area for Thailand and Cambodia spans 26,000 square kilometers, far surpassing the 7,250 square kilometers of the Thailand-Malaysia Joint Development Area. He expressed concerns that the extensive OCA coverage area would complicate the sharing of benefits from exploration.
Panlop urged the new government to renegotiate the flawed MOU, with the goal of reducing the size of the OCA before any new development is pursued.
He proposed initiating the delineation of the new OCA from the agreed maritime territories between Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand. He also suggests the utilization of new technology to map out the OCA boundary more accurately, thereby reducing the potential for future disputes.