THE NATIONAL Legislative Assembly (NLA) yesterday passed the amended drafts of two controversial petroleum bills by an overwhelming majority in the first reading.
The meeting was held as the Thai Energy Reform Network continued its campaign to seek 10,000 signatures for opposing the drafts, which they claimed would not really return “energy sovereignty” to the country because the rights to sell petroleum discovered domestically would remain with the oil and gas producers.
NLA members voted 152-5, with 16 abstentions, to support the drafts in principle.
A 21-member ad hoc committee was nominated to look into the bills in details, in preparation for further deliberation by the assembly.
Some NLA members voiced objections to the drafts, stating that they omitted some important elements suggested by an energy panel appointed by the NLA itself to study amendments to the Petroleum Act BE 2514 and the Petroleum Income Tax Act BE 2514, especially on the establishment of the National Oil Company.
NLA member Lt-General Ampon Chuprachum said the National Oil Company would have to be set up to jointly manage petroleum fields under a production-sharing contract (PSC) system with private operators.
Energy Minister Anantaporn Kanjanarat explained that the new laws were urgently required to allow the auction by the end of this year of two major gas-producing fields in the Gulf of Thailand whose concessions expire in 2022-2023.
He said the government was considering assigning the Finance Ministry or an educational institute to study the setting up of the National Oil Company, and thus the petroleum laws could be amended again later if the study supported its establishment.
“We have to make an announcement [to open the auction] at the year’s end. If the operators do not have the confidence to continue their investment, there will be a problem,” the minister added.
Anantaporn said the amended laws would give the government the flexibility to choose between the concession, PSC or service-contract systems for the upcoming auction of the expiring Erawan and Bongkot gas fields.
The current energy bodies could handle the task, without having to wait for the establishment of the National Oil Company, he stressed.
“For the next round of petroleum auction, we can wait for the National Oil Company. There would not be any problem,” he said, referring to the long-delayed 21st round of nationwide petroleum bidding.
Noted non-government organisation activist and NLA member Wallop “Khru Yui” Tangkananurak said he could not vote for the bills, as they set no time frame for the setting up of the National Oil Company.
“This government is no different to other governments, which were manipulated by the old surrounding [interest] group,” he claimed.