Dr. Eric Reeves’ self-appointed position as a long-distance commentator on events within the Sudanese oil fields, already deeply discredited, has been yet further undermined by the release of an analysis of satellite pictures taken of the oil fields over a number of years. Dr Reeves began his Sudan involvement in the Spring of 1999 stating that he was opposed to the Sudanese oil project and those foreign oil companies involved within it. Amongst other things Dr Reeves has claimed that the Sudanese government has displaced all the population around the oil fields, “orchestrating a ferocious scorched-earth policy in the area of the oil fields and pipelines.” (1) He stated, for example, in July 1999, that “[huge swaths of land around the oil fields and pipelines are presently cleared of all human life and sustenance”. (2)
Dr. Reeves’ credibility as a commentator and researcher has already been extensively questioned in ‘The Return of the “Ugly American”: Eric Reeves and Sudan’.(3) The reliability of his claims about oil field displacement in Sudan has been further devastated by a detailed analysis of satellite pictures taken over a number of years in the very areas of Sudan about which Dr Reeves makes his bold assertions.
The focus of many of Dr Reeves’ questionable allegations has been the Canadian oil company Talisman Energy. Presumably at least in part in response to his claims, this company commissioned a leading British satellite imagery analysis company, Kalagate Imagery Bureau, to study a series of satellite photographs taken of their oil concession in Sudan. The images analysed by the Kalagate Imagery Bureau included civilian satellite images collected last year and images acquired by U.S. military intelligence satellites in 1965, 1967, and 1969. Ground resolution in the images varied between about three feet and 10 feet. There were additional lower resolution Landsat images from the 1980s and Radarsat images from 2000. (4) The images were analysed by Geoffrey John Oxlee, one of Britain’s leading experts in the field.
Mr Oxlee focused his analysis on seven areas where there are Talisman operations – Heglig, El Toor, Bamboo, Munga, Unity, Parayang and Bentiu – the epicentres of the “huge swaths of land” subject to the “ferocious scorched-earth policy” claimed by Dr Reeves. Mr Oxlee stated: “there is no evidence of appreciable human migration from any of the seven sites examined.” (5) To the contrary, he further stated that analysis revealed that “once the sites were developed, then people did come into the area, and in fact it looked as if people developed around the oil sites rather than going away from it.” (6) He further stated that he is prepared to stand by his conclusions in court, if needed.
It should be noted that Mr Oxlee retired from the Royal Air Force with the rank of Group Captain (in American terms a full Colonel). He is the former head of the United Kingdom Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre. He is the author of ‘Aerospace Reconnaissance’, (published by Brasseys in 1997). Mr Oxlee is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Expert Witness Institute.
It is inconceivable that massive “scorched earth” displacement on the scale repeatedly claimed by Reeves would not have been immediately noticeable in the satellite pictures studied. When confronted with the overwhelming scientific evidence further destroying whatever credibility the anti-Sudanese lobby projected him as having had, Dr Reeves limply suggested that Talisman may have carefully selected only favourable satellite pictures: “Are they presenting it all? Are there competing sets of images?” (7) Mr Oxlee stated that the satellite photographs examined “are genuine pictures. Having looked at hundreds of thousands of satellite pictures, there’s no way these pictures have been doctored. Absolutely none. We check these things out.”
The satellite analysis confirms on-site reporting from one of the main oil areas in Sudan in question. Claudia Cattaneo, of the Canadian Financial Post, a Canadian newspaper hostile to the involvement of the Canadian Talisman oil company in Sudan, reported:
“[A]t Heglig, the site of Talisman’s oil major oilfields and processing facilities, there is no evidence of population displacement. Military presence is low key. Children are playing and going to school near the oil wells. Western and Sudanese workers say thousands of nomads are coming here to look for work, for medical assistance…or for education.” (8)
It would appear from detailed satellite picture analysis and first-hand reporting that that far from witnessing the systematic displacement of civilians, southern civilians seem to be being drawn towards the oil concessions. Has Dr Reeves no self-respect? How much more of a battering does Dr Reeves’ reputation need to take before he concedes that he has been misled, and in turn has himself misled others, on this issue. He continues to discredit not only himself but Smith College which affords him the opportunity to make such claims.
1. ‘Investors Fuel Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan’, ‘The Catholic New Times’, Toronto, 31 October 1999.
2. Eric Reeves, ‘Silence on Sudan’, ‘The Chicago Tribune’, 29 July 1999.
3. ‘The Return of the “Ugly American”: Eric Reeves and Sudan’, European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, November 2000.
4. ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, ‘The Financial Post’, (Canada), 19 April 2001.
5. ‘Talisman Energy Says Study Disproves Sudan Allegations’, Dow Jones Newswire, 18 April 2001.
6. ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, The Financial Post, (Canada), 19 April 2001.
7. ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, The Financial Post, (Canada), 19 April 2001.
8. ‘Analysts Upbeat About Talisman’s Sudan Role’, The Financial Post, 17 November 1999.
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)