15 September 2021

Onshore oil drilling imminent despite serious concerns

In 2017, Timor-Leste's National Petroleum and Minerals Authority (ANPM) awarded two contracts for oil and gas exploration in Covalima, Ainaro and Manufahi municipalities to a partnership of Timor Resources and TimorGAP.  More information is on La’o Hamutuk’s website.

As the same time, the government proceeded with consultation on a law to regulate onshore petroleum operations, culminating in the enactment of Decree-Law 18/2020 in May 2020.

Although seismic exploration was conducted beginning in 2018, environmental assessment for drilling test wells began only in 2019, and the process was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Environmental documents are in La'o Hamutuk's environmental registry, including several rounds of revisions. 

Timor Resources intends to drill five test wells in Block A, Covalima. The ANPM granted an environmental license in July 2021, and drilling will start in late September.

ANPM recently held public consultations on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the Rusa-1 test well in block C, in Ainaro near Manufahi. La'o Hamutuk wrote a seven-page submission, which made the following points:

  • This consultation was too rushed to allow thorough analysis of 800 pages of documents.
  • Neither the environmental consultant (Groene Ciorcal), the project proponents (Timor Resources and TimorGAP), nor the regulators (ANPM) have any experience with oil drilling on land, so special caution must be taken.
  • This assessment only considers the impacts of the test well, but if it finds significant oil, production will follow, with much greater environmental and community impacts. The assessment and consultation should consider the entire project cycle, as it make no sense to drill a test well if the production wells will not be permitted.
  • The EIS mentions the need to address climate change, but does not consider it seriously.
  • Many environmental and social impacts are not analyzed objectively or completely.
  • Plans for decommissioning and site restoration plans ignore important issues.
  • The EIS contains misleading and exaggerated claims of economic benefits.
  • Public consultations have not given communities complete and accurate information, or encouraged them to ask questions or raise concerns without intimidation or threats. Affected stakeholders should have the right to consent (or refuse consent) to drilling in their midst, and project proponents should treat the local community with respect.
  • ANPM, TimorGAP and Timor Resources have several conflicts of interest which make it difficult for this environmental licensing process to protect Timor-Leste. It should have been conducted by the environmental authority under the State Secretariat for Environment.