Australia’s Woodside pulls out of Myanmar gas projects

Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has said it will follow Chevron and TotalEnergies to exit its Myanmar gas exploration projects, citing political instability and human rights violations in the south-east Asian country following a military coup last year.

“Woodside has decided to withdraw from its interests in Myanmar,” said the company in a Thursday filing to the Australian Securities Exchange, adding that it was in the process of relinquishing its exploration permits.

Woodside said the decision to abandon Myanmar would result in a $138m hit to its profits.

The Australian energy group’s exit comes after Chevron and TotalEnergies announced last week that they would pull out of gas projects in Myanmar following months of intense pressure from human rights activists.

Multinational companies have been urged to cease operating in the country following the coup and the establishment of a military junta under General Min Aung Hlaing. Almost 1,500 people have been killed and 12,000 arrested in the junta’s violent crackdown on protesters according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local advocacy group.

Natural gas projects generate more than $1bn annually for the regime, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, accounting for about 50 per cent of Myanmar’s foreign exchange.

Woodside, an Australian oil and gas producer, had exploration licences for nine sites in Myanmar, including one joint venture with the government, but it was yet to extract any gas. Initially, Woodside had said it would not pull out of Myanmar following the military takeover in the country.

Former chief executive Peter Coleman came under fire for an interview in February 2021, in which he was criticised for appearing to downplay the coup, which deposed the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. He later issued a statement saying Woodside did not condone the coup.

In March 2021, following pressure from human rights organisations and Australia’s peak trade union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the company put all its operations in Myanmar under review.

In a statement on Thursday, chief executive Meg O’Neill said the company had concluded there was “no longer a viable option for Woodside to continue its activities”.

“Given the ongoing situation in Myanmar we can no longer contemplate Woodside’s participation in the development of the A-6 gas resources, nor other future activities in-country,” she said.

The A-6 gas project is Woodside’s joint venture with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, the state-owned energy company.

Campaigners welcomed Woodside’s decision. “Australian and international resource companies must ensure that no revenue payments flow to the military which is now highly reliant on foreign currency to buy weapons, tanks and military hardware,” said Clancy Moore, national director of anti-corruption coalition Publish What You Pay Australia.

The announcement made little impact on the company’s share price.

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