Lao Dam Cover-Up: Scientist Protests Deceptive EIA Report

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The environmental scientist originally hired to conduct the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project in Laos has disassociated his group from the official report. Instead of accepting Dr. Murray Watson’s original – and highly critical – report, the Company ceased communicating with him and hired a Norwegian company, Norplan, to complete the EIA.

Watson states that while the Norplan EIA claims to be based on his investigations, the EIA comes to different conclusions regarding the risks of the planned expansion project. According to Watson, “the Norplan EIA seriously under-estimates the risks of the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project, and understates or ignores the changes already experienced from the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project. They are deceiving the Lao Government and enabling their client to externalize costs.”

Dr. Watson found the impacts of the existing project on downstream rivers to be much more severe than the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) had acknowledged. His group found that the company’s mitigation programs were not promptly and equitably distributed, and that the accumulated uncompensated economic losses to recipient river communities stood at about US$11 million.

Despite this, the Theun-Hinboun Power Company seemed intent on proceeding with its Expansion Project, which includes the construction of a new dam and reservoir to increase power production at Theun-Hinboun. The Expansion Project would double water diversions into the downstream Hai and Hinboun rivers. Watson’s studies concluded that that the Expansion Project would require expensive engineering measures to control additional erosion along the Hai and Hinboun rivers and its devastating effects on the 30,000 people currently living downstream. According to Watson, without these measures the project would “definitely seriously impoverish 10,000-15,000 people, [and] probably will moderately impoverish a further 10,000-15,000.”

Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director with International Rivers, says “It looks like the dam-builders are shopping for the most favorable environmental impact assessment that money can buy. The Theun-Hinboun Power Company should not proceed with the expansion project until a credible independent EIA has been completed and until the Company has proven that it is capable of restoring the livelihoods of communities affected by the existing project.”

Andrew Preston, Director of the Norwegian NGO, FIVAS, adds "the discrepancies between the Norplan EIA and Watson’s findings are yet another reason why plans for the Expansion Project should be suspended. Statkraft should think very hard about the wisdom of proceeding at this time."

The Theun-Hinboun Power Company is owned by Norwegian utility, Statkraft; a Thai company, GMS Power; and the Lao government. The Theun-Hinboun project commenced operation in 1998. THPC hopes to sign a power purchase agreement with Thai utility EGAT in the coming weeks to sell power from the planned Expansion Project. If the power purchase agreement is signed, THPC plans to start construction on the Expansion Project in mid-2008.


Read Watson’s abbreviated statement.

An archive of documents relating to the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project, including a copy of Watson’s draft EIA, comments on the Norplan EIA and correspondence with Norplan is available on his company's website.

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