Govt nod for gas pipeline through Lawachharra Forest

The Ministry of Environment, ignoring widespread protests, has agreed to allow a gas pipeline to be laid through the Lawachharra reserve forest, said a source in the Ministry of Energy. Unocal, the global US-based energy company, is planning to lay the 26-kilometre pipeline through the Lawachhara reserve forest to connect the Moulvibazar gas field to the national grid.

This has created anxiety in environmentalists and nature lovers, who fear that the installation of the pipeline will destroy wildlife habitat and biodiversity of the 1,200-acre reserve forest. After a number of demonstrations by different environmental groups, the Ministry of Environment was hesitant to permit the installation of the pipeline through the reserve forest. However, the Ministry of Energy was able to convince the Ministry of Environment that it would not harm the environment as the pipeline would be installed with great care so that ecological balance would not be disturbed.

"As the country has been facing severe crisis of gas, we desperately need the Moulvibazar gas by December this year. If we have to bypass the Lawachharra forest, another 21 km of pipeline will have to be installed and the demarcation of the right of way will require at least one more year," said State Minister for Energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain. The state minister told newsmen on Saturday that Unocal is aware of the environmental concerns and has designed the pipeline route through the stream channels so that less trees are affected. "We should all cooperate to construct the pipeline so that we can get the gas by December this year," he urged.

The same forest was damaged by the predecessor of Unocal due to gas explosion at Magurchhara in 1997. Because of this, the ecological balance of the area was severely affected and the water of different streams of the area dried up and different points of these streams were also silted up with earth that had fallen from nearby hillocks.

Some 1200 acres of the forest area, including a portion of a proposed reserve forest that was the habitat of some rare species of wildlife and trees, was damaged directly by the fire. Unocal now expects to produce 70-100 million cubic feet of gas per day from the Moulvibazar field, beginning in the first quarter of 2005.
(New Age, June7, 2004.)

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