Thailand’s Sri Thep Historical Park in Phetchabun may lose the chance to become a World Heritage Site if the government allows an oil company to build a drilling hole nearby, according to Wison Kosotanon, president of the Phetchabun Culture Council.
His warning came after a company, ECO Orient Resources (Thailand), called earlier this week for a public hearing process in order to prepare an Environment Impact Assessment report. The company plans to build the drilling hole near the 1,300 year-old Khao Kwang Nok Stupa located inside the park.
“The new drilling hole is too close – just over 100 metres to the historical stupa – it will be harmful to our heritage and will lose us the chance to get the recognition as a World Heritage Site by Unesco,” Wison explained.
Opinion is divided over the company’s application – at the first public hearing, many culture experts and local officials opposed its construction and claimed they had concerns about the cultural and environmental impacts it would have, but some villagers supported it in the hope it might provide them with employment.
Anan Choochote, director of the Culture Ministry’s Fine Arts Department, has assigned his archaeological teams to study the merits of the company’s application.
“Our officers are studying its impact. If there is harm to our heritage, we will work with other governmental agencies to stop the project,” Anan said. “We are now gathering more information and we will submit it to Unesco later this year.”
The proposal for Sri Thep to be listed as a World Heritage Site is expected to be approved by the cabinet and the National Committee on the World Heritage Commission Convention on March 8.
Anan added that Sri Thep Historical Park had been listed as a national archaeological site since 1935 and also dates back some 2,500 years like prehistoric Ban Chiang. Therefore, he said, it also warranted being listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
Ban Chiang, an archeological site in Nong Han District, Udon Thani Province, has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1992.
Following the Phetchabun Culture Council’s controversial opposition to the drilling project, ECO Orient Resources may postpone the second round of public hearings currently due to be held in April.
“As the result of the objection raised at the public hearing, senior officials at our head office will carefully study whether the firm should hold a second round of public hearings or drop it,” said company spokesman Navin Panphan.
The film has been drilling for oil in Sri Thep for more than a decade but the latest plan to build a new hole near the stupa has raised concerns on cultural, environmental and tourism grounds.