Two Canadian oil companies could be involved in fracking pilot projects in Colombia where social licence is in question

Published by Brent Patterson on

On May 7, this feature article about fracking in Colombia was published by Semana Sostenible of Colombia and Mongabay Latam:

Toronto-based Sintana Energy and the VMM-37 block in in Santander

“Currently, there are 25 families in Terraplén who survive by cultivating plantain, cassava and corn, in addition to raising pigs, chickens, goats and buffalo. The buffalo were given to them by ExxonMobil, which owns a well less than 500 m (1,640 ft) from the settlement. The corporation intends to use the well to extract oil and gas by fracking.”

“The well, called Manatí Blanco-1, is in Block VMM-37, where up to 12 additional wells could be drilled. The Manatí Blanco-1 project spans more than 154 square kilometers (about 60 square miles), or the equivalent of nearly 29,000 American football fields. A separate fracking pilot project recommended by a committee of fracking experts may also be conducted there.”

“According to [Ciro Salvador Ruiz, a member of the Community Action Board of Terraplén], ‘The truth is that we have never agreed with fracking in our territory because the big [entities] always take advantage of the smallest [people]. They have told us that this is a simulation, but we know that it is not. When a company makes such a large investment, it does not just hope to explore and then leave if people don’t accept it. We know that they will proceed anyway.’”

VMM-37 is reportedly a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Toronto-based Sintana Energy Inc. and its subsidiary Patriot Energy Oil & Gas Inc.

Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd and the VMM-2 and VMM-3 blocks in Cesar

“Cesar-Ranchería Basin, where at least one of the pilot studies would be conducted, contains Block VMM-2 and Block VMM-3, which are owned by ConocoPhillips and Calgary-based Canacol Energy. Activity in these blocks would interfere with four municipalities in the department of Cesar (San Martín, Aguachica, Río de Oro and Gamarra) and one municipality in the department of Santander (Puerto Wilches).”

“The fight that San Martín residents have put up against fracking has led them to educate themselves and others on the topic, adding even more voices to the discussion. Their municipality, located in the southern part of the department of Cesar, was the first in the country to raise its voice strongly against fracking.”

“The spark that ignited the municipality was the arrival of U.S.-based multinational corporation ConocoPhillips in 2015 when the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) declared the company the operator of Block VMM-3, a nearby drilling site that spans 330 km2 (127 mi2).”

‘[Carlos Andrés Santiago, the spokesman for the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking] a native of San Martín, recalled that a wave of resistance began at that time. This touched off a number of protests beginning on March 17, 2016, and another exactly a month later. On April 17, about 300 protesters prevented machinery from entering the Pico Plata-1 well in the community of Pita Limón, which is also in San Martín municipality but located 35 km (22 mi) from its urban area.”

“According to Santiago, the oil industry’s main strategy so far has been to divide communities. ‘These companies play with people’s needs,’ he said. ‘They arrive with the promise of employment, and that causes many people — although they know that fracking is something negative — to end up involved in the industry.’”

“Santiago said he believes there is no ‘social license,’ or widespread public acceptance, for fracking in his municipality or in the nearby Magdalena Medio region.”

“Mongabay Latam and Semana Sostenible contacted Canacol Energy but did not receive a response by the time of this article’s original publication in Spanish.”

PBI and human rights concerns

Social licence (a term first used by a Canadian mining executive and later embraced as a policy statement by the Trudeau government) refers to the idea that beyond a government permit, community permission is also needed for an extractive project.

Peace Brigades International notes that if social licence for fracking is absent in communities where Canadian-backed fracking pilot projects may take place then there is the potential for social conflict, repression and human rights violations.

In 2018, 24 environmental defenders were killed in Colombia. Others experience threats, harassment, criminalization and judicialization.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) outlines state and corporate responsibilities to protect human rights.

The UN’s Guiding Principles include: “In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed.”

The Voices at Risk guidelines for Canadian missions notes, “Canadian companies operating abroad are expected to respect human rights and to operate lawfully and in consultation with the host government (national and municipal) and local communities.”

It further highlights, “While, in international law, the ‘right to a clean or healthy environment’ is not generally recognized, and while this right is not protected in Canada’s domestic law and constitution, Canada has recognised several rights related to the environment (for example, the right to safe drinking water and basic sanitation). All sections of Canadian missions abroad can advocate in support of human rights defenders working on land and environmental issues. As always, missions should consult headquarters as required.”

PBI accompanies human rights defenders in Colombia who are profoundly concerned by Canadian extractive activities in their country. In November 2019, PBI hosted a visit to Canada by Corporación Regional Para La Defensa De Los Derechos Humanos (CREDHOS) and Corporación Colectivo de Abogados Luis Carlos Pérez (CCALCP) who raised these concerns with Canadian officials.

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