Extractive industries

Quarrying by York Image on May 11, 2013.Creative common attribution: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Industrial quarrying Photo by York Image , taken on May 11, 2013. Licensed under: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Extractive industries include the mining and mineral sectors, and also exploration of natural gas and oil, petroleum refineries and quarrying for construction resources such as sand, stone and gravel.

Cambodia’s extractive resources have gone largely untapped. While these resources are geographically identifiable, as shown on the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) map,1 the size of the mineral lodes is either unknown or has not been widely reported. Cambodia’s mineral resources include copper, gold, iron ore, zinc, lead, tin, bauxite, sapphire, ruby, kaolin and limestone.

The government considers extractive industries a potentially important sector to fuel economic development.2 Production and revenues, however, remain relatively low. Mining products made up just 0.1% of Cambodia’s exports in 2016.3 The Ministry of Mines and Energy collected $20.3 million in non-tax revenue in 2016, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.4 Cambodia’s most significant exploitation of minerals is for sand, limestone and gravel for use in the construction industry, and for salt. Gemstones were heavily mined in areas such as Pailin in the 1970s, and are now thought to be mostly exhausted. Artisanal gold mining is important to the traditional livelihoods of indigenous groups, such as the Kuy in Preah Vihear, but is being challenged by commercial operations and exploration licenses.

Under the Constitution, all natural resources are the property of the state,5 and therefore mining conducted without a license is illegal. With the exception of oil and petroleum, most extractive industries are regulated by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), formerly the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, or MIME. MME is responsible for licensing, managing and inspecting mining operations, and for ensuring that the provisions of the mining law are respected.6

Licensing is covered by the 2001 Law on Managing and Exploring Mineral Resources and the 2016 Sub-Decree on Management of Mineral Exploration and Industrial Mining Licenses. At the end of 2016, 23 industrial mining licenses, 61 mineral exploration licenses and 401 construction (pits and quarries) mining licenses were current.7

The Sub-Decree sets out the processes and conditions around the issuing of licenses. Exploration licenses are valid for three years and may be renewed twice. Industrial mining licenses are valid for up to 21 years and may be renewed for two terms of 10 years.8 

Sand exports have been a controversial issue. Singapore reportedly registered $700 million worth of Cambodian sand exports between 2007 and 2015, while Cambodia’s customs agency had no record.9 The Ministry of Mines and Energy then banned sand exports from Koh Kong province, but silica sand was exempt from the ban.

While the MME is in charge of issuing and suspending licenses, other ministries including the Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology have responsibilities when environmental pollution and protected areas are concerned.10 For example, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) — the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment—is required for all oil and gas operations.11

Oil and petroleum

Petroleum activities fall mainly under the jurisdiction of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), rather than the General Department of Petroleum of the MME. CNPA is responsible for evaluating exploration bids and making recommendations to the government on granting petroleum agreements for specific companies.12

Oil exploration territory is divided into ten offshore blocks (A to F and Area 01 to 04), nineteen onshore blocks (VIII to XXVI), plus an overlapping claims area (OCA) contested with Thailand that measures 27,000km2 [links to Maps of Cambodia’s exploration blocks]. The uncontested onshore and offshore blocks are all administered by the CNPA.13In December 2014, a committee was established to oversee renewed negotiations with the Thai government on the OCA, which has been under dispute since the early 1970s.14

Cambodia currently has no refineries with the capacity to deal with the amount of oil and gas that may be extracted in the future, though work has been underway on a refinery in the Kampot and Preah Sihanouk provinces since it was announced in December 2013.15 In April 2019 it was announced that the council of ministers had approved a draft Law on Petroleum and Petroleum Production Management.16

Last updated: 18 April 2019


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