Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has announced it is following multinational energy groups Chevron and Total in exiting Myanmar, saying it is unable to work in the country following the military coup nearly one year ago and the regime’s continuing human rights abuses and violence against civilians.
The moves follow pressure from human rights groups, who have called on companies to stop doing business in Myanmar and cut off the flow of money from projects to the junta. February marks a year since the military re-took control of Myanmar in a coup.
Last week Woodside revealed it had terminated a production-sharing contract with the state-owned oil and gas enterprise MOGE in November, and on Thursday the company said it would abandon the remainder of its licences in the country.
The contract termination covers an offshore block known as A-7, where Woodside owns 45% and Shell owns 45%, and comes into force on 30 September “with the formal relinquishment process ongoing”, Woodside said. Shell has also given up its licence and “has no licences in Myanmar” after relinquishing them all, a spokesperson said.
On Thursday Woodside said it was also withdrawing from two other offshore fields where it holds exploration licenses, AD-1 and AD-8, as well as a second contract with MOGE covering a third block, A-6.
The withdrawal will cost a total of US$209m, Woodside told the Australian Stock Exchange.
“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,” the company’s chief executive, Meg O’Neill, said.
Woodside has not conducted any activities in Myanmar since shortly after the coup and has paid no permit fees to the government in the past year, a spokesperson said.
Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup in February 2021 and has since killed more than 1,200 civilians in a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Known as the Tatmadaw, the military has faced international condemnation over its 2017 “clearance operations” – executed with “genocidal intent”, according to UN investigators – against the ethnic minority Rohingya in Rakhine state, which included mass killings, including of children, gang rapes, arson and torture. More than 25,000 Rohingya were killed, and 700,000 driven over Myanmar’s border into Bangladesh.
Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for Justice for Myanmar, welcomed the withdrawals as “a major step in cutting off funds to the illegal military junta”.
“It is essential that the companies exit responsibly, mitigating negative impacts and ensuring the junta does not benefit financially from their withdrawal.”
Yadanar Maung said it was “shameful the Australian government had failed to take any meaningful action to stop revenue flows to the junta, not even sanctioning the war criminal and commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing even though nearly a year has passed since the attempted coup”.
“Australia is now even lagging behind big oil when it comes to action on Myanmar.”
Clancy Moore, the Australian director of anti-corruption coalition Publish What You Pay, welcomed Woodside’s action but said other Australian companies should also pull out and the government should take action against the regime by sanctioning its generals.
“Governments including Australia must still introduce sanctions to stop revenue flow from gas, oil and mining funding the military … to wage war against the people of Myanmar.”
Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of Human Rights Watch, said the departure of Woodside following Total and Chevron underscored the need for coordinated and targeted sanctions from the US, EU, Australia, UK, Japan and other concerned governments on Myanmar’s natural gas revenues.
“Myanmar’s military will continue to collect massive revenues from natural gas and other extractive sectors unless new targeted sanctions block foreign currency payments, because other companies will take over their operations. Sanctions are urgently needed now on MOGE and other military-controlled entities.”
Pearson said the departure of energy companies from Myanmar would be only gestures so long as the junta kept making money.
“The US, EU, Australia and others need to impose measures that will have real economic impact on the junta, if there is to be any progress on human rights.”