PBI-Canada convenes webinar with environmental defenders on fracking and extractivism in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

Oscar Sampayo (CRY-GEAM), Ivan Madero (CREDHOS), Yuvelis Morales (AguaWil), Karen Hamilton (Above Ground), Luis van Isschot (PBI-Canada) and Yuli Velasquez (FEDEPESAN).

PBI-Canada working in collaboration with PBI-Colombia, Above Ground and CREDHOS convened a webinar on April 29 that discussed the situation of environmental defenders in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, fracking and extractivism, and the role Canadian situations play in this.

The live Zoom webinar had simultaneous Spanish/English translation.

The Facebook (without translation) can be watched here.

Next week, we will have an article that outlines some of the key points and ideas for action that were highlighted in the webinar.

For now, here are some of the issues we noted in the lead-up to the webinar:

Threats against the Colombian panelists

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has noted that it has received with deep concern information on death threats against membership of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) and two of the organizations it accompanies, the Federation of Artisan, Environmental and Tourism Fishermen of Santander (FEDEPESAN) and the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and territory of Puerto Wilches (Aguawil).

Peace Commission hearing

On April 26, Colombian Senator Antonio Sanguino has tweeted: “Given the difficult human rights situation that leaders and environmental leaders are going through in Puerto Wilches, we have approved in [the Senate of Colombia’s Peace Commission] a public hearing to listen to the communities that have received threats and demand actions that protect the lives of environmental defenders.”

National strike

Reuters reports: “Some of Colombia’s biggest unions will hold a strike on April 28 to take to the streets and protest the economic and social policies of President Ivan Duque, chiefly a fiscal reform that looks to raise taxes, including on certain foods.”

Jhonatan Varón of the Central Union of Workers in the department of Tolima has highlighted: “We are also for the comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement, the defense of sovereignty considering that the Colombian state has opened up the possibility that glyphosate and fracking will poison our territories, and protection of social leaders who continue to be victims of political genocide by paramilitary groups and by the state itself, for not guaranteeing the lives of those of us who think differently.”

Escazu Agreement

The Escazu Agreement came into force on April 22. Reuters reports: “The treaty orders countries to set up bodies to monitor, report and ensure new rules are adhered to, and specifies the rights of environmentalists, including their right to freedom of expression, free movement and peaceful assembly.”

While the agreement has been signed by Colombia, it has not been ratified, despite the country being the most dangerous place in the world for environmental defenders.

Peace process

Alexander Rustler, a researcher at the New York City-based Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, has commented that fracking would put at risk the already precarious peace process in Colombia. He writes: “The first fracking projects are intended to be carried out in Magdalena Medio, a region in the North of the country that was among the hardest hit by conflict.”

Rustler further cautions: “Fracking’s expansion risks aggravating tensions, potentially causing demonstrations against oil and gas drilling to metamorphose into violent clashes between communities and companies.”

Law banning fracking

On August 10, 2020, Semana Sostenible reported: “Environmentalists and congressmen came together today to present a bill banning the exploration and exploitation of non-conventional deposits of hydrocarbons in the Colombian territory with fracking, a technique that the national government has been insisting on.”

At the time, the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking said one of the main reasons behind the bill was to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement. They referred to Law 1844 that the Congress approved on July 14, 2017 that ratified Colombia’s accession to the Paris Agreement that seeks to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Air pollution

The Guardian has reported: “Research has found that fracking and other types of extraction are dangerous for the people who live near drilling sites – causing higher rates of asthma and cancer, as well as preterm births.”

Last May, Mongabay reported that ExxonMobil owns the Manatí Blanco-1 well (in the VMM-37 block) that it intends to use for fracking. That well is situated less than 500 metres (1,640 feet) from the community of Terraplén.

Manatee

Fracking poses significant implications for aquatic life in the Magdalena Medio. The Colombian Territorial Development Observatory Corporation has pointed out that the ExxonMobil Platero project is located just seven kilometres away from the Ciénaga El Llanito wetland, which is the habitat of the endangered Antillean manatee.

To watch the Facebook video of the webinar, click here.

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