Senior Cambodian and Thai officials are reportedly discussing a joint development area (JDA) for oil and gas exploration within the 26,000sq km Overlapping Claims Area (OCA) – estimated to hold up to 500 million barrels of oil and gas deposits under the seafloor – in the interest of a sustainable energy future as a power crisis looms heavy on the horizon.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan brought up the proposed JDA at the end of a January 3 Cabinet meeting, mentioning that he had discussed the matter with Cambodian Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem last month, local media outlet The Nation reported a day later, citing an unnamed source from the Government House of Thailand.
Speaking with Sem, Gen Prawit was said to have argued that oil and gas exploration at the potential JDA would boost self-reliance in energy resources as well as spur development of related industries.
Prawit said that Sem, compelled by the current elevated international oil prices, expressed willingness to move ahead with the project, under the condition that the two countries exclude territorial border matters in any potential JDA agreement, according to the source, as cited by The Nation.
The OCA overlaps the Cambodian and Thai borders in the Gulf of Thailand, and has been a point of contention between the two neighbouring nations, which have claimed the area since the early 1970s.
A memorandum of understanding to jointly explore the OCA was signed in 2001 but was later shelved by the Thai government in 2009. Calls to rekindle negotiations on oil and gas development in the region have re-emerged time and again with varying degrees of success.
However, with spiralling global demand and prices for oil and gas, buoyed by economic reopening and the Ukraine crises, negotiations may take a different turn this time.
Khomgrich Tantravanich, secretary-general of Thailand’s Energy Regulatory Commission, has suggested policymakers of both countries be vocal and establish clear direction for joint development in the OCA, as reported by the Bangkok Post in August.
Khomgrich recommended Thailand secure more gas supplies for electricity generation, after a drop in volumes from the gulf resulted in additional “costly” liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. “We are confident that the OCA will help Thailand secure gas supplies and keep energy prices low in the long run,” he was quoted as saying.
Although Cambodian energy ministry director-general for petroleum Cheap Sour could not be reached for comment on January 5, he has previously affirmed that Cambodia is “ready” to negotiate with the Thai side and take full advantage of OCA talks.
In early August, ministry secretary of state Meng Saktheara commented that political and economic considerations due to the involvement of oil and other natural resources would make OCA talks “very complicated”.
He also acknowledged that although the leaders of both countries have called for a speedy resolution, negotiations have made little headway.
Regardless, Saktheara proposed that the two countries follow the model set by the Malaysia-Thailand JDA (MTJDA) in the gulf claimed by those two nations.
“We’ll work together to extract natural resources and develop the two economies, based on the premise of equity and in accordance with international principles,” he said.
According to The Nation’s source, the Thai Cabinet agreed to set up a committee – to be chaired by a foreign ministry official – to oversee the JDA with Cambodia, which was decided to be modelled after the MTJDA.