Australian operator Woodside Energy’s ongoing exploration campaign offshore Myanmar and its planned A-6 gas field project there will not be derailed by the 1 February military coup, according to chief executive Peter Coleman.
He said Woodside does not see the coup holding back upstream activities this year, including pre-front end engineering and design work for the A-6 development with partners Total and MPRL.
“At the moment we see this as being a transitionary issue. You’ve got an emerging democracy working through their processes,” Coleman was quoted by Reuters.
The military three weeks ago seized control in Myanmar, alleging electoral fraud in last November’s polls that saw the democratically elected civilian government returned with a greater majority.
Anti-military protests have escalated in recent days while nations including the UK, the US and Japan have imposed sanctions against Myanmar, calling for the release of detained parliamentarians including the President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, Coleman initially appeared to take a different stance in remarks following last week’s results call saying Woodside could not judge if the army had legitimate grievances.
"It's not up to us to judge the veracity of grievances they have around the previous election process," said Coleman, in comments first reported by Energy News Bulletin.
"I understand [the Army] put together quite an extensive folder of grievances around the election that they wanted to be heard and they weren't being heard.
"They were pushed up against a difficult decision point, the day of the coup was the day the new parliament was due to proceed."
Coleman subsequently said that he "regretted some remarks in a media interview that have been interpreted as condoning what has occurred in Myanmar. This is not the case."
"To clarify: Woodside is closely monitoring developments in Myanmar and the evolving situation, including any guidance from the Australian Government," he said.
"Woodside is a responsible and constructive foreign investor in Myanmar. Our focus remains on the safety and well-being of our people... we have joined a range of other businesses in signing up to the Statement by Concerned Businesses Operating in Myanmar."
"As investors, we inhabit a ‘shared space’ with the people of Myanmar, including civil society organisations, in which we all benefit from respect for human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and association - and the rule of law," a statement by Concerned Businesses Operating in Myanmar read.
"The rule of law, respect for human rights, and the unrestricted flow of information all contribute to a stable business environment."
Coleman added that Woodside remains committed to its employees and to the people of Myanmar.
The Myanmar government earns almost $1 billion annually from its natural gas and oil industry where other key overseas players include Petronas and PTTEP.
Last week, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews called on international businesses investing in Myanmar to take "immediate action" and "implore" the military to "return power to the people of Myanmar".
"Businesses and investors should suspend or terminate activities with the Myanmar junta when the risk of involvement in serious human rights abuses can no longer be reasonably managed," said Andrews.
"I, and many others, would argue we have long passed that threshold."
Coleman also said that other Western nations would be unlikely to hit the junta with "harsh" sanctions for fear of driving Myanmar further into China's orbit.
"It's very early days in the coup, the military has committed to free and fair elections in 12 months," he said.
"I think you'll find, in my view, other Western governments will be reluctant to put up very harsh sanctions in place,” said Coleman.
"Myanmar has made good progress in moving to democracy, the last thing they'd want is to push them away from that, potentially towards China."
State-owned China National Petroleum Corporation is partner in two of the three exploration wells in Woodside’s current drilling programme offshore Myanmar; while gas from Posco’s Shwe field offshore Myanmar is exported to China via pipeline infrastructure operated by CNPC.
After seizing power, the military (Tatmadaw) declared a 12-month state of emergency and pledged to hold new elections without giving a timeline.