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Japan Oil Company To Explore Tonle Sap

Cambodia signed an agreement with Japan’s national oil company on Tuesday that opens the possibility of exploration on the northern edge of the Tonle Sap lake, a major source of fish for much of Cambodia.

The agreement, signed Tuesday afternoon by Council Minister Sok An and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, or Jogmec, includes cooperation in evaluating business opportunities, researching technology and potential drilling.

Jogmec Executive Director Akira Suzuki called the agreement a first step in further oil and gas development between Cambodian and Japan. The state-run company would also be open to more private-sector development in the future, he said.

Jogmec’s predecessor, the Japan National Oil Corporation, surveyed Cambodia for onshore oil reserves between 1997 and 1999. Jogmec and Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., Ltd., will examine data from the survey, according to a joint statement by the government and the company. If the survey finds suitable oil reserves, Jogmec will work with Cambodia’s National Petroleum Authority for full exploration rights.

Sok An said Tuesday the Jogmec deal will help bolster the economy with job opportunities. And Chiaki Takahashi, vice minister of economy and trade for Japan, said he hoped the development of oil and gas here would help Cambodia become a “famous nation.”

But critics warn that Cambodia’s oil exploration could have high costs, especially if profits do not go to help the public. And environmentalists warn that the Tonle Sap project could hurt an ecosystem that supports many of the fish Cambodians rely on for protein.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said exploration on the lake could hurt its environment and its fish.

“We demand the government to study the effects on the environment, fish stocks and biodiversity before there is exploration, and allow stakeholders to participate in the study,” he said.