Four Canadian companies secure 39 new oil exploration blocks in Colombia
Photo: Heather Neun of PBI-Canada visited the El Diviso village in Bajo Simacota in July 2021 where community members shared concerns about Parex Resources. In recent years, Parex has secured 26 new exploration blocks in Colombia.
On January 6, the Colombian newspaper Portafolio reported: “Of the 69 blocks that the nation delivered between 2019 and 2021, 45 were in the hands of Frontera Energy, Parex, GeoPark, Gran Tierra Energy and Canacol.”
Four of these transnationals are Canadian.
With 26 blocks to Parex Resources Inc., 5 blocks to Canacol Energy Ltd., 4 to Gran Tierra Energy and 4 to Frontera Energy, 39 of the 69 blocks went to Canadian companies. GeoPark is a Chilean company registered in Bermuda.
Eighteen of the 26 bids by Parex were made in December 2021.
Frontera Energy also acquired 100 per cent of the shares of Petróleos Sudamericanos Energy (PetroSud) in December 2021.
The article then quotes the Colombian Minister of Mines and Energy, Diego Mesa, who says: “In the next 18 months these projects will begin the exploratory work, and it is expected that for the following years the discoveries will begin to be reported.”
Environmental defenders killed and criminalized
This must also be understood in the context of human rights.
In September 2021, Global Witness reported that 65 land and environmental activists were murdered in Colombia in 2020 for defending their land and the planet.
Global Witness further noted that a third of these attacks targeted Indigenous and Afro-descendant people.
PBI-Colombia accompanies human rights organizations that have supported social leaders criminalized by at least two Canadian oil companies.
CREDHOS has raised concerns about the criminalization of social leaders by Parex Resources in relation to the Aguas Blancas operation, while the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and COSPACC have followed the arrest of eight social leaders protesting Frontera in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare.
Last year, the PBI-Colombia accompanied Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace also reported that a campesino was killed and an Indigenous leader wounded while protesting the Costayaco oil field in Putumayo operated by Gran Tierra.
Fracking in 2022-23
We have also noted that two fracking pilot projects have been approved in Colombia. The Kalé project in December 2020 and Platero in April 2021.
Drilling at the Kalé and Platero pilot projects located in Puerto Wilches, Santander are scheduled to begin in 2023, but that could be advanced to this year.
In October 2019, Alexander Rustler, a researcher at the New York City-based Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, cautioned: “Fracking’s expansion risks aggravating tensions, potentially causing demonstrations against oil and gas drilling to metamorphose into violent clashes between communities and companies.”
In November 2020, six members of the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking in the Magdalena Medio region received death threats.
In February 2021, it was reported that several young people from the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and Territory of Puerto Wilches (AguaWil) had received threats due to their opposition to fracking in the area.
A few days prior to that, two unknown men broke into the home of 20-year-old Yuvelis Natalia Morales, a member of Aguawil, and threatened the young woman with death by telling her they “could kill her any day.”
Canadian companies interested in fracking
Despite this, several Canadian transnationals hope that the fracking pilot projects in Puerto Wilches will lead to full-scale commercial fracking in Colombia.
Last year, the CEO of Canacol commented: “The objectives of these [fracking pilot projects] are to demonstrate that this important resource can be developed in an environmentally safe way, similar to how the same unconventional resources have been implemented in the United States and Canada.”
Canacol holds a 20 per cent stake in the VMM-2/Plata and VMM-3/Piranga projects near Puerto Wilches in the Magdalena Medio region. The American transnational ConocoPhillips holds the remaining 80 per cent stake.
In March 2019, Colombia’s then-Mines and Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez stated that Parex Resources was among the companies “seeking to operate” a fracking block.
Colombian environmental activist Oscar Sampayo notes: “What worries us is that in 2014 Parex directly entered Magdalena Medio in block VMM9. This block is in the municipality of Cimitarra in Santander. That block is destined for the development of a nonconventional deposit using fracking.”
Additionally, Frontera is a minority owner in a 236,000 barrel per day pipeline that runs from the Magdalena Medio region to Coveñas on the Caribbean coast that is reportedly ready to move increased crude output if fracking is approved beyond the pilot projects.
And significantly, Toronto-based Sintana Energy Ltd. welcomed the news of the U.S. company ExxonMobil being granted a pilot project contract for Platero/VMM-37 (an area of land that ExxonMobil co-owns with Sintana) and stated that the fracking pilot projects should provide an effective path forward for future operations.
The company added: “[The pilot project] process should now provide an effective path forward for the testing and production of source rock hydrocarbons in future operations.”
Obligations and responsibilities
Canada does not have due diligence legislation in place that recognizes and addresses (through enforcement mechanisms and meaningful consequences) the dangers faced by human rights defenders who challenge the impacts of Canadian transnational corporations and investment banks on their communities.
Canada has also refused to call on Colombia to ratify the Escazú Agreement, a legally-binding mechanism to protect environmental defenders.
Given the absence of legislative frameworks for protection and the dangers faced by environmental defenders challenging conventional and unconventional fossil fuel projects in Colombia, we continue to follow this situation with concern.