What impact would the fracking pilot projects have on Indigenous rights in Colombia?

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Mauricio Alvarado: The recent Indigenous Minga mobilization in Colombia raised concerns about fracking, extractivism, and adherence to the United Nations recognized Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent.

On November 25, the Colombian National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) confirmed that only Ecopetrol had submitted a bid for the initial auction for licences for fracking pilot projects (los proyectos piloto de investigación integral).

BNAmericas reports: “ExxonMobil and Drummond Energy withdrew their interest pending the publication of new guidelines related to evaluation terms and the appointment of a review committee.” While their bids may not be going forward immediately, it is still possible/likely they will participate in the second auction.

Peace Brigades International-Canada is following ExxonMobil with interest because its bid to frack a block near Puerto Wilches, Santander would be in partnership with Toronto-based Sintana Energy and its Colombian subsidiary Patriot Energy.

We are also looking at how the fracking pilot projects (and the larger scale fracking that could come) would impact on Indigenous rights in Colombia.

Fracking and Indigenous rights

The American business magazine Forbes has reported: “Nearly a third of Colombia is designated indigenous territory… Often, that land sits atop natural riches that have made it the envy of prospectors. Conflicts abound in Colombia between indigenous communities and extractive industries clawing for oil, gold or lumber.”

And in a recent article titled Colombian fracking edges closer to reality, Petroleum Economist reported: “Unconventional assets are also often near indigenous lands, which could pose further headaches.”

Furthermore, the British organization War on Want specified in 2017 that: “Approved exploration contracts for fracking overlap with the territories of Indigenous communities such as the Yupka, Wiwa and Wayúu peoples.”

That article cautioning against deepening environmental conflicts adds: “They also cross the ‘Black Line’ – an established demarcation of territories in the Sierra Nevada region that hold sacred value for the Kogi, Wiwa, Kankuamo and Aruaco peoples.”

Fracking could aggravate tensions, spur clashes

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) has stated its rejection of fracking, as have Indigenous peoples in the Amazon region of Colombia and the Alternative Indigenous and Social Movement (MAIS) political grouping.

Alexander Rustler, a researcher at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, has further commented: “Fracking’s expansion risks aggravating tensions, potentially causing demonstrations against oil and gas drilling to metamorphose into violent clashes between communities and companies.”

And this past summer, Matthew Smith, Oilprice.com’s Latin-America correspondent, commented: “If fracking is eventually approved in Colombia, the lack of social license and intense opposition will see the oil companies engaged in unconventional oil operations become targets for protests from community groups and environmentalists.”

This in the context of a country where 250 Indigenous leaders have been murdered between the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 and mid-2020.

The right to free, prior and informed consent

The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanies the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP) that has long sought the implementation of the historic T-880 court ruling on Indigenous rights.

Judgment T-880/2006 of the Constitutional Court of Colombia relates to “the right to free prior and informed consent, and the rights related to demarcation of land, as well as exploitation of natural resources.”

The ruling referenced the then-draft of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Notably, Colombia abstained at the historic UN General Assembly vote on UNDRIP on September 13, 2007 (while Canada voted against UNDRIP).

In November 2019, PBI-Canada and PBI-Colombia worked together to facilitate an advocacy tour in Canada with representatives from accompanied organizations CCALCP and CREDHOS who raised their concerns about fracking in Colombia with Members of Parliament, officials at Global Affairs Canada, and the broader public.

We continue to watch this situation with concern.

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