Pakistani environmental groups have filed a petition against Anglo-Dutch Shell and UK-based PremierOil in Karachi over its plans to drill for oil in the country’s oldest and largest national park, Kirthar, after being granted a concession for exploration, covering more than 90% of the park’s 1,150 square miles (3,000 sq km).

Kirthar National Park was established to protect endangered

wildlife including the unique Sindh ibex, desert wolves, leopards,striped hyena and imperial eagle. Situated 80 miles (130 km) north-west of Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, it is also essential to the water supply of the city’s 14 million people and contains the 5,500 year-old Rannikot Fort, one of the world’s oldest, environmentalists say.

Under Pakistani law, drilling for oil in national parks is illegal, Friends of the Earth’s (FOE) Habitats Campaigner Craig Bennett told edie. It is upon this premise that local groups, such as the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), have taken legal action against Shell. “Since the military government of General Pervez Musharraf came into power, legislation can be introduced without parliamentary consent and with the approval of only one minister. This is what happened last week, when the Governor of Sindh province (where Kirthar is situated), Mohammed Mian Soomro, a Director of Shell-Pakistan until he became governor last year, amended the local wildlife laws to allow pipeline construction in the park.”

Final permission for drilling will have to be granted by Pakistan’s Federal oil minister, Usman Aminuddin, who is himself a former executive of a Shell subsidiary, Burshane, Bennett said. “There is a lot of suspicion from local people that Shell is using its influence to force through legislation in times of a military government and ignore local opinion,” he said. He added that FOE would be campaigning Shell investors such as pension funds and banks to address the oil company’s “shortcomings”.

“We have already seen the damage that Shell’s activities can have on

wildlife, such as at Dureji Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Farhan Anwar, an Executive Member of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment, a local NGO. Since 1998, Shell has been involved in exploration in Dureji Wildlife Sanctuary, also in Pakistan, where environmentalists say that new roads have damaged the mountain environment and increased erosion while seismic testing has disturbed wildlife populations.

“We find it quite outrageous that they are now planning to plunder one of our most precious national parks, in Kirthar, home to some of our most endangered species. Shell’s project is illegal. Our law clearly

prohibits any kind of mining or exploration activity in these areas. But

now this massive corporation is using its influence, and contacts with

ex-Shell employees now in Government, to trash our wildlife laws. We

call on British investors with money in Shell to ask this company how

it can defend its actions,” Anwar said.

However, Shell spokesman David Stuart told edie that there had been no conflict of interest involved when Soomro made his decision on pipeline construction, that it was PremierOil who is the operator of the project, and that drilling was a “long, long way off”.

“Shell has a major input in making sure the project complies with our strict environmental standards and acts fully within all the appropriate legislation in Pakistan,” he said. “What we all realise is a sensitive matter will be decided only after an EIA (environmental impact assessment) is carried out, for which the process is underway.”

The protesters maintain, however, that even performing an EIA is illegal in a protected national park, such as Kirthar.

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