Colombian environmental defenders concerned by court ruling that permits fracking pilot projects to proceed within months

Published by Brent Patterson on

A protest against fracking in Puerto Wilches. Photo by Inigo Alexander.

Reuters reports: “Investigative fracking operations in Colombia can go ahead after a court in the Andean country’s Santander province on Thursday [June 2] reversed a lower court’s decision to block two pilot projects.”

Valora Analitik adds: “The fracking processes carried out by Ecopetrol in Puerto Wilches will now be able to continue their march, as the tutela filed by Afrowilches [the Afro-Colombian Corporation of Puerto Wilches] is declared inadmissible.”

And Business AM notes: “The Colombian oil company Ecopetrol, which is controlled by the government, wants to set up pilot projects on fracking in the province of Santander in the Kale and Platero regions. In addition, a collaboration is set up with the American group ExxonMobil. Ecopetrol acts as operator of both projects.”

The full text of the court ruling can be found here.

The tutela application had been supported by the PBI-Colombia accompanied José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR).

Alliance rejects fracking

In response, the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking has stated: “We will ask the Colombian Constitutional Court to reverse the decision of the supreme court. After all, the supreme court’s decision ignores the concept of prior consultation. In addition, the projects represent a violation of the rights of the Afro-Colombian communities in Puerto Wilches.”

Radio Nacional Colombia further notes: “Likewise, they indicated that the legal, advocacy and mobilization actions will continue so that fracking is prohibited in the country, as well as they called on the candidates Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández, to commit themselves without double talk to suspend the fracking pilots.”

The second round vote in the presidential election will take place on June 19 and the new president of Colombia will take office on August 7.

Fracking appears imminent

On May 5, prior to the court ruling, BluRadio quoted Diego Mesa, the Minister of Mines and Energy, saying: “We continue with the intention of having the first drilling on August 7, but we must abide by the court ruling, it will depend on how the legal actions they are taking against the ruling prosper. The prior consultation process would delay the process in about two or approximately three months.”

In November 2021, Natural Gas Intelligence reported: “[Ecopetrol] executives expect the pilot projects to come online by 2023.”

And a month later, Diario del Huila reported: “The president of [Ecopetrol], Felipe Bayón, said that although it is estimated that the extractions will begin in 2023, they could be advanced to 2022 if everything goes well.”

Platero approval timeline

In this timeline, we are also watching for the decision on the Platero fracking pilot project.

The Platero fracking pilot project proposal was first submitted to the Colombian National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) on March 17, 2021. The ANH gave its provisional approval of that proposal on March 31, 2021.

The application for the Platero project was filed with the National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA) on February 15, 2022.

Ecopetrol is now waiting on this approval.

Canada finances fracking in Colombia

The Banking on Climate Chaos website reveals Scotiabank’s recent investments in Ecopetrol. The bank provided USD $665 million to Ecopetrol in 2018, another $666.67 million in 2020, and $1.7 billion in 2021 for a total of $3.032 million.

Bronwen Tucker of Oil Change International also noted on a recent PBI-Canada webinar that the Canadian government’s financing agency Export Development Canada (EDC) provided $300 million to Ecopetrol between 2012 and 2020.

Ecopetrol and paramilitaries

On May 9, Al Jazeera reported: “Local environmental defenders and a representative of the JEP [the Special Jurisdiction for Peace extrajudicial court] told Al Jazeera that they suspected a connection between the paramilitary groups intimidating them and the state-owned Ecopetrol, which is behind the fracking project. The company has been accused of having ties with the Gulf Clan specifically.”

Despite these serious allegations against Ecopetrol, Canadian government officials have not commented on the financing of Scotiabank and EDC of this oil company.

Today, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia described Ecopetrol as a private sector ally.

Canadian companies welcome fracking

At this time, we again highlight that Toronto-based Sintana Energy Ltd. welcomed the news of ExxonMobil being granted a pilot project contract for Platero/VMM-37.

In April 2021, Portafolio also reported: “The Canadian multinational Canacol announced in recent days the first exploratory results of an independent prospective evaluation of shale oil in two of its blocks (VMM-2 and VMM-3), in the Magdalena Medio basin.”

Canacol CEO Charle Gamba has also commented that the approval of the Kalé and Platero pilot projects are “positive steps towards realizing the commercial potential of the unconventional shale oil field in Colombia and specifically for the resources prospects that we have through our position in the Middle Magdalena Valley basin.”

We continue to follow this situation closely.

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