From Talisman to Frontera: Peace Brigades accompanies struggles centered on Canadian oil and gas operations in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo from 2011: “PBI accompanies the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC), organizations that support and advise the U’wa community.”

Peace Brigades International has been observing the human rights and environmental impacts of Canadian oil companies in Colombia for close to ten years.

In 2011, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project reported on oil exploration being conducted by Talisman in its Niscota block on indigenous U’wa territory near the Chaparral-Barro Negro reserve in the northwest department of Casanare.

Talisman Energy Inc. was a Calgary-based transnational oil and gas company formed in 1992 (but with a history under different names that began in London, Ontario in 1923). The Spanish petroleum company Repsol bought Talisman in February 2015 and in January 2016 renamed the company Repsol Oil & Gas Canada Inc., which is based in Calgary.

In 2006 a consortium of companies including Talisman had secured an exploration and production contract for the 623 square kilometre Niscota block. The block, with an estimated reserve of 500 million to 900 million barrels of oil, was situated north of the giant Cusiana and Cupiagua oil fields in the Llanos basin in the Piedemonte area.

PBI-Colombia noted the consortium had drilled two exploratory wells inside the concession in 2011 with the intention of expanding the field between 2013 and 2017.

It then warned: “The first step for the consortium will be to conduct seismic tests, which consists in strategically opening a grid of lines throughout the territory at the ends of which they will drill holes and detonate explosives every 100 metres to determine appropriate sites for future wells.5 This process involves serious damage.”

“It is impossible to deny the drastic environmental and cultural effects the oil industry could have on a culture like that of the U’wa. In addition to the obvious effects of seismic exploration, the arrival of oil companies would also entail felling trees; building platforms, pools, wells, stations and oil pipelines and roads; depleting water sources; pollution from spills and waste; particles in the air; and noise and light from natural gas combustion.”

By October 2019, Colombia Energia reported: “Currently, of the 694,099 barrels of crude oil per day that are extracted on average from the Los Llanos basin (73% of the national total), almost 232,000 come from the Casanare and Arauca production fields.”

The Llanos basin covers 220,000 square kilometres and contains medium and heavy oil fields including Cusiana, Cano Limon and Rubiales.

In June 2019, Richard Herbert, the CEO of Toronto-based Frontera Energy, described the Llanos basin as “the core area of Frontera’s portfolio and where we have had a significant amount of exploration success in the past.”

Frontera has had a controversial history in Colombia, including as Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. for alleged anti-union activities in Puerto Gaitan, Meta in 2011 to 2013.

In July 2016, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (which is accompanied by PBI-Colombia) co-authored the report ‘The Human Cost of Oil: A Human Rights Impact Assessment on the Activities of Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. in Puerto Gaitan’ that concluded: “In its activities in the Rubiales and Quifa fields, Pacific has failed to comply with labor, environmental and consultation standards. Oil activities are indirectly related to abuses and criminalization suffered by trade union and community leaders as a result of the conduct of its private security company and funding of law enforcement agencies.”

Frontera Energy is also being challenged by the CSPP and COSPACC (also accompanied by PBI-Colombia) for its reported involvement in the arbitrary arrest and detention of eight social leaders protesting its 3,559 barrel per day Cubiro block operations in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare in November 2018.

In 2009, Pacific Rubiales was also involved in the construction of the 160,000 barrel per day Oleoductos de Los Llanos (ODL) pipeline from the Rubiales heavy oil field to the Caribbean export terminal of Covenas. Furthermore, in August 2019, Reuters reported that pipeline company Oleoducto de Colombia, partially owned by Frontera, is ready to move increased crude output to the Caribbean coast if fracking is approved in Colombia.

With three Canadian companies (Toronto-based Sintana, Calgary-based Canacol and Parex) potentially bidding for contracts for the fracking pilot projects to be awarded in September/October this year, and with exploration to begin in 2021, Peace Brigades International is closely monitoring this situation.

In December 2011, PBI-Colombia noted that “40% of Colombia’s land has been licensed to, or is being solicited by, multinational companies in order to develop mineral and crude oil mining projects”, that “80% of the human rights violations that have occurred in Colombia in the last ten years were committed in mining and energy-producing regions” and that “more than 37 million hectares are licensed for crude oil exploration.”

In March of this year, a Business & Human Rights Resource Centre report further noted that from 2015 to 2019 Colombia was the second most dangerous place in the world for defenders focusing on business and that 90 per cent of the attacks were on defenders raising concerns about just four industries (mining, fossil fuels, agriculture, dams), with the second largest category of attacks (at 43) being oil, gas and coal.

The previous month, the environmental organization 350.org released this report that highlighted: “Some of the most severe corporate human rights abuses worldwide may be attributed directly or indirectly to the operations of fossil fuel companies.”

PBI is working to remind the Canadian state of its human rights obligations with respect to the activities of Canadian oil and gas companies in Colombia, build public awareness in Canada about the activities of these transnationals, and provide protective accompaniment to the Colombian human rights defenders at-risk for challenging them.

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