Court to rule on gas burning at Thai exploration concession after villagers complain of illness

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Khon Kaen administrative court was due to rule on Thursday (Oct 15) on whether or not to suspend a second round of gas burning at the Apico gas field in Kranuan district. A petition filed by an environmental group claimed that residents of Tambon Dunsad have been suffering from toxic gas since the second round of burning began last Friday (Oct 9).

Apico has embarked on a second round of 24-hour gas burning at its petroleum exploration site, Dongmun pit, after carrying out a first round in June. The company informed locals that this round would last 15 days and would cease operations on Oct 23.

On Tuesday (Oct 13), the Ban Namun Dunsad Environment Protection Group asked the court to halt Apico's operation in the area and set up measures to ensure the environmental and healthcare safety of the people.

Prakorn Srakaengtum, who lives 1.7km from the site at Ban Namun, in Tambon Dunsad, claimed that some days after the operation began, many people living nearby began complaining of illness.

He said many people in the village started to get sick when the petroleum exploration site began the gas burning.

"Two elderly villagers were hospitalised due to heart problems, while many people - including me - often feel dizzy and get headaches when the wind carries the gas from the burning site to the village. Many villagers also have rashes after direct exposure to the gas when outside," Mr Prakorn said.

He claimed that this was not the first time that people around the petroleum exploration site became sick. Many people suffered from the same illnesses during the first round of gas burning in June.

Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Sretthachau said gas detectors in the village found the level of methane in the air was unusually high and the oxygen level was lower than normal.

Mr Chainarong explained that methane was one of the gases lighter than air. It can reduce oxygen in the air and cause the people to feel tired, dizzy, with headaches, seizures, high blood pressure and arrhythmia.

"The people did not know that Apico would start this round of gas burning until September. They said they would stop the operation after the first round of gas burning had finished. They did not inform (local people of) anything. Furthermore, the authorities also supported them in every aspect," he said.

"The company is not adhering to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report anymore. This round of gas burning is also violating the EIA, as it was not indicated in the report," he added.

In an effort to protect the environment and local health, the Ban Namun Dunsad Environment Protection Group submitted a plea to stop Apico's petroleum exploration to the United States Embassy on Tuesday (Oct 13) and to the Energy Ministry on Monday (Oct 12).