Canadian companies interested in fracking in Colombia as ANH president confirms pilot projects will start next year

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: ANH president Armando Zamora Reyes and Colombian energy minister Maria Fernanda Suarez after he was sworn into office, March 12, 2020.

On May 20, Armando Zamora, the president of the Colombia’s National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH), stated: “The timetable [for the fracking pilot projects] continues, and the interest of the companies is still there. The interest, the preparations, the plan, the organization is so far on track for having the start of the pilot projects next year.”

Canadian companies interested in fracking

At least two Canadian companies have been reported in news articles as interested in these pilot projects. Those articles note:

Toronto-based Sintana Energy and its subsidiary Patriot Energy Oil & Gas Inc. are reportedly part of a joint venture with ExxonMobil to frack the VMM-37 bock near Puerto Wilches, Santander. And Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd. and its subsidiary CNE Oil and Gas are reportedly partnered with ConocoPhillips to frack the VMM-2 and VMM-3 blocks near Puerto Patiño and San Martin, Cesar.

Last year, along with ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Ecopetrol, Colombian Mines and Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez noted that Calgary-based Parex Resources was among the companies seeking to frack in Colombia.

And while not reported as a contender for fracking, Toronto-based Frontera Energy is a minority owner in 236,000 barrel per day pipeline that runs from the Magdalena Medio region to Coveñas on the Caribbean coast that is ready to move increased crude output if fracking is approved beyond the pilot projects.

Opposition to fracking in Colombia

In February 2019, a poll found that more than 90 per cent of Colombians are opposed to fracking in their country.

The concerns being expressed include: the divisions extractivism can cause in communities, the safety of social leaders opposed to fracking, the possible contamination of drinking water and impacts on fishing villages, the lack of social licence, and climate change.

The Union of Workers of the Petroleum Industry (USO) voted against fracking in November 2019 and the National Strike Committee submitted 104 demands, including opposition to fracking, to the government in December 2019.

The Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking has also stated that fracking would violate the Colombian constitutional principles that guarantee citizens the right to life, the right to water, and the right to a healthy environment.

Global Affairs Canada and Export Development Canada

In June 2019, Gustavo Galvis, a Chief Representative for Export Development Canada in Bogota, wrote about “key opportunities for Canadians” in Colombia.

He highlighted: “At one point, Canada was one of the largest investors in [the oil and gas] sector in Colombia. One of the reasons is because there’s a lot of similarities between the Alberta foothills and the Colombian geography. Canadian operators feel comfortable with the industry and today, some of the most important companies in exploration and production in Colombia are Canadian.”

In August 2019, Claudio Ramirez, the senior trade commissioner for Global Affairs Canada in Bogota, wrote in an Export Development Canada article about the “increased activity across many sectors” in Colombia including oil and gas.

Ramirez highlighted: “Colombian resources are depleting fast, so there’s a push to increase exploration through the auction of new blocks. Technologies related to oil recovery and mature fields are much sought after, as well as in the development of unconventional resources, like fracking and deep-water exploration.”

Ramirez also comments in his EDC blog: “[Colombia] was ravaged by an armed conflict fuelled by the drug trade [but] things have changed for the better since the signing of a peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group in the country.”

Social leaders continue to be killed in Colombia

Peace Brigades International accompanies several human rights defenders in Colombia who are concerned about fracking and Canadian oil and gas operations. They also cite that 627 social leaders and 138 former FARC members have been killed between November 24, 2016 (when the peace agreement was signed) and July 20, 2019.

Global Witness has reported that 24 land and environmental defenders were killed in Colombia in 2018 and Front Line Defenders says: “Colombia, where targeted violence against community leaders opposing environmentally destructive mega-projects has spiraled since the 2016 peace accords, was the bloodiest nation with 106 murders in 2019.”

Those numbers continue to increase this year with 101 social leaders killed so far in 2020, 26 of them after the start of the coronavirus quarantine.

Canada’s obligations to human rights defenders

The Government of Canada’s Voices at Risk guidelines for missions notes: “In many cases, failure to investigate and prosecute threats or attacks against land or environmental defenders can create a climate of impunity, which can lead to further attacks.”

“In some contexts, peaceful dissent may be misrepresented by government, private sector or media organizations as a threat to national security, economic interests or as unpatriotic activity, which can increase risks of violence.”

“The mission should refer to Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy if it becomes involved in the case of a land rights and environmental HRD who speaks out against a Canadian-based company.”

It also notes: “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.”

Peace Brigades International

PBI has continued to provide accompaniment to at-risk human rights defenders in Colombia during the pandemic and voice concerns with Canadian officials about the impacts of Canadian oil and gas activities on communities and social leaders.

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