An overview of Canadian oil and gas operations in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: PBI-Colombia accompanies the CSPP and COSPACC, organizations that supported the U’wa community impacted by Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. in 2011.

Canada has been involved in oil and gas in Colombia since the 1920s, but significant changes have been seen in the last twenty years.

New regulations for oil companies, 2001

Montreal-based author Yves Engler has written: “In the late 1990s, Canada’s aid agency supported petroleum legislation reform, which benefited Canadian firms.”

IPS has also reported: “The drafting of Colombia’s laws governing oil and mining has come under scrutiny from trade unionists and human rights activists, who allege that CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, helped write the legislation to advance the interests of Canadian companies operating in the country.”

And NACLA has explained: “In 2001, the Colombian government established new regulations that no longer required foreign companies to enter into a 50-50 production partnership with Ecopetrol, allowing private companies to keep up to 70% of the oil they extracted from new fields—even more in incremental production contracts for existing fields.”

That article adds: “[The Colombian government] also extended the length of time that foreign companies retained production rights and dramatically lowered the amount they had to pay the government in royalties on their percentage of oil production. Before the new regulations, Colombia demanded a Latin American high of 20% in royalties, but the new rules included a sliding scale under which most of Colombia’s oil fields—under 5,000 barrels a day—only required an 8% royalty payment as described earlier.”

One of the first companies to secure a contract under these new terms was Calgary-based Petrobank Energy and Resources.

Speaking about the energy and mining legislation, Francisco Ramirez, president of SINTRAMINERCOL, stated: “The new code flexibilized environmental regulations, diminished labour guarantees for workers and opened the property of afro-Colombian and indigenous people to exploitation.”

And Scott Price, a spokesperson for the Calgary-based oil and gas company Solana Resources, stated: “We think the fiscal legislation governing oil exploration [in Colombia] is very attractive, far more attractive than what is being offered in Canada.”

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, 2011

Canadian oil companies were also interested in the passage of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

In May 2008, nine members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce called on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move forward with the deal. Three of them were representatives of oil companies, all of them based in Calgary. The agreement was signed by November 2008.

It then came into effect on August 15, 2011.

Canadian oil and gas companies in Colombia

By November 2011, PBI-Colombia reported on oil exploration being conducted by Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. on U’wa territory in Casanare.

It commented: “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.”

PBI-Colombia further cautioned: “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 July 2016, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) 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.

The CCAJAR report concluded: “In its activities in the Rubiales and Quifa fields, Pacific has failed to comply with labor, environmental and consultation standards.”

It also noted: “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.”

By 2017, Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. had changed its name to Frontera Energy Inc., a company that is still active in Colombia.

$8 billion of Canadian energy assets in Colombia

In 2018, Canadian energy assets abroad (CEAA) totaled $233 billion. Natural Resources Canada has noted: “The top five countries by CEAA value are the United States ($190 billion), Colombia ($8 billion), Germany ($6 billion), Mexico ($6 billion) and France ($4 billion).”

While still significant, Canadian energy assets abroad totalled $149.7 billion in 2014, with $10.3 billion of that in Colombia.

In June 2019, Gustavo Galvis, a Bogota-based representative of Export Development Canada, wrote: “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.”

Still, Galvis highlights: “Today, some of the most important companies in exploration and production in Colombia are Canadian.”

At present, those Canadian “operators” include Calgary-based Parex Resources Inc., Toronto-based Frontera Energy Inc., Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd., Toronto-based Sintana Energy, and Calgary-based Gran Tierra Energy Inc.

New profits from fracking?

Claudio Ramirez, Canadian Trade Commissioner for Colombia, has highlighted “key sectors and growth trends” for Canadian investment including oil and gas.

Ramirez notes: “Oil and gas: 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.” has reported that Ecopetrol estimates that Colombia may have up to 12 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil.

At least three Canadian companies – Parex, Canacol and Sintana – have expressed interest in fracking in Colombia.

Monitoring and documenting concerns

PBI-Canada continues to monitor human rights concerns in relation to these oil and gas companies in Colombia.

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