On Talisman’s claim to have “satellite photographic evidence” that there has been no human displacement from the oil regions.
Eric Reeves [April 19, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Talisman CEO and astrophysicist Jim Buckee would eschew the authoritative, highly detailed, and disinterested human assessment work done in the oil concession areas by the Canadian Harker Mission (whose report was commissioned by the Foreign Ministry), by Amnesty International, by the past three UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan (Gaspar Biro, Leonardo Franco, and Gehart Baum), Christian Aid (UK), Human Rights Watch, and a very recent Canadian Ecumenical Church Mission. This is in addition to the voluminous supporting testimony from humanitarian workers and news reporters who have been to Talisman’s oil regions, all painting the same devastating picture of human destruction and displacement directly related to oil development.
Not able to find a single credible report on oil development in Sudan that was anything but a fierce and damning indictment of Talisman’s presence in the country, Buckee spent $150,000. to have a single British expert—no doubt paid handsomely, and under no illusions as to what the company wanted for results—assess satellite reconnaissance photographs.
One doesn’t need to be a technical expert in this area, however, to see some highly questionable features of Talisman’s effort at technological self-exculpation.
 Are these photographs of any use in determining whether villages or tukuls (the characteristic huts of the area) have been burned and destroyed, perhaps two or three or more years ago (with four or more flooding rainy seasons intervening)? It’s not a question of the quality of photographic resolution; it’s a question of whether scorched-earth warfare in this terrain, with these highly ephemeral building materials, leaves any discernible sign after the flooding of the rainy seasons (flooding of which Mr. Buckee himself has made much).
 Is the analysis offered nearly full or extensive enough? The Financial Post, which carried the story today, reported the following:
“Mr. Oxlee [the British expert] focused his analysis on seven areas where there are Talisman operations—Bamboo, Heglig, El Toor, Munga, Unity, Parayang and Bentiu. The rest of the concession was not closely analyzed because it was ‘clearly empty.'”
But this is absurd selectivity. As the Financial Post notes, Talisman’s concession areas cover 19,000 square miles. To pick just seven areas (and it should be noted Bentiu is a major town, not an “area”—and it is presently swollen with refugees driven from oil areas) is grotesque selectivity.
If Talisman were at all serious in this exercise, it would have had Mr. Oxlee select his areas for investigation based on the findings of the Harker Report or the October 1999 report by UN Special Rapporteur Leonardo. He would, for example, have concentrated on the villages in the areas of Ruweng Country (which overlaps with Talisman’s concession areas) that were the site of a savage scorched-earth campaign during spring/summer 1999. This campaign figures extensively in both reports. The Harker Report, in speaking of the time after Talisman acquired its stake in Sudan (having already chronicled massive displacement beginning in 1992), notes:
“December 1997 into 1998 saw the burning of tukuls in Panlok Kwok, Mankuo, Aloual, and Ngoniak. Drilling was underway in Athonj (El Toor) in 1998; in October, people were displaced. On 9 May 1999, a new offensive was launched from the Nuba Mountains and Pariang. Antonovs and helicopter gunships supported troops using armoured personnel carriers. Roads built by the oil companies enabled these to reach their destinations more easily than before. The village of Biem 1 was destroyed, and the burning of tukuls and theft of cattle ranged as far as Padit. Biem 2, which we visited, was badly damaged.
“The offensive lasted almost two months, not the ten days mentioned by Leonardo Franco, who may have been thinking only of the use of ground troops, and the movement of these was stopped by the rains in June. The offensive was characterized by bombing runs and helicopter gunships flying low enough to kill people, and stop cultivation. From April to July 1999, the decline in population in Ruweng County seems to have been in the order of 50%.” [Harker Report, January 2000, page 11]
For Talisman to select seven particular areas from 19,000 square miles (nearly all of which is bizarrely and peremptorily declared by Mr. Oxlee as “obviously empty”)—without any cross-referencing using specifically noted destroyed villages—is shamelessly irresponsible research. Indeed, it is utterly worthless.
 And how were these particular satellite images selected? What was the principle of selection? Are there other photographic images that tell a different story?
All the disinterested assessment work done from the ground has revealed the same terrible reality: massive human displacement and destruction directly related to oil development. Are we, then, to accept that Talisman—a clearly interested party—is in a position to select objectively just what is the most revealing photographic evidence for the questions at issue? Is Mr. Buckee’s objectivity reflected in his characterization of the extensive work of UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan Leonardo Franco as mere “hearsay”?
Mr. Buckee has put himself on record as saying that Sudan is a “friendly peaceful place,” and “increasingly, a source of relative regional stability.” He is talking about a country that is wracked by the most destructive civil conflict in half a century: over 2 million have perished; famine now looms for 3 million according to the UN’s World Food Program; over 4 million have been displaced by the conflict. Can Mr. Buckee be seen as anything but a shameless prevaricator on Sudan’s realities? Is there any reason to believe that he would not impose his publicly stated views in such a way as to produce a skewed selection of photographic evidence?
 Unmentioned in the Financial Post piece is Talisman’s recent acknowledgement in its “corporate responsibility report” that civilian populations have been displaced from the Unity and Heglig areas. So which is it, Mr. Buckee? Satellite proof that there has been no human displacement? Or your own admission of such?
And what of Talisman’s acknowledgement that its concession airstrips continue to be used for offensive military missions by the Khartoum regime? Recent on-the-ground reports (including that by the Canadian Ecumenical Church Mission) make clear that these offensive missions take the form of assaults on villages, cattle, foodstuffs, and innocent civilian populations. Does Talisman have photographic images of these brutal realities that originate with their facilities?
Much as Talisman Energy would have its shareholders believe that it is not complicit in the oil-driven destruction of Sudan, the massive credible evidence available makes it all too clear that this savagely cruel complicity is in fact a defining feature of Talisman’s corporate ambitions in this torn nation. Human displacement and destruction on a massive scale, directly related to Talisman’s operations in its concessions, are well-established facts, impervious to technological manipulation or obfuscation.