Earthworks analyst Patricia Rodríguez: “Social movements might soon win a huge legislative victory prohibiting fracking”

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: On June 28, 2022, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS), PBI-Colombia and PBI-Canada visited the community of Puerto Wilches and heard concerns about fracking and their determination to stop the pilot projects.

Earthworks analyst Patricia Rodríguez writes in NACLA:

Progressive lawmakers, environmental groups, and social movements might soon win a huge legislative victory prohibiting fracking, one that could reverberate positively throughout the Global South.

In its current iteration, the proposed law, PL 114/2022, has 74 co-sponsors in a congress with greater representation by left and center-left parties, and strong backing from the Colombia Free of Fracking Alliance, a civil society movement of about 100 organizations from around the country.

In Colombia, the law would entail negotiating an end to already signed fracking contracts in order to avoid protracted disputes in international courts.

Note: One of the companies with a signed fracking contract is Calgary-based Parex Resources. Parex signed an exploration and production (E&P) contract with the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) on September 18, 2014, for Block VMM-9 in the Magdalena Medio region. If a deal isn’t negotiated, Parex could theoretically file an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) challenge under the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement for lost future profits should fracking be banned in Colombia.

Two pilot fracking projects, Kalé and Platero, started in 2019 in Puerto Wilches and were financed by the national oil company Ecopetrol and ExxonMobil. Local communities have risen up to oppose implementation of the projects.

[The pilot projects] are now on hiatus until the decision on fracking is made.

Note: While those pilot projects would both be operated by Ecopetrol, Patriot Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Toronto-based Sintana Energy, owns a 30 per cent stake in the VMM37 block where the Platero fracking pilot project was to be conducted. ExxonMobil owns the remaining 70 per cent of VMM37.

By December 9, [Ecopetrol’s Vice President of Operations Alberto] Consuegra had shifted his narrative and announced that Ecopetrol was ready to invest more than $6 billion in conventional oil exploration and around 1,600 new drilling wells throughout Colombia.

[Ecopetrol]—and the Colombian government—are purportedly responding in part to pressure from the Biden government, which asked Colombian officials to increase oil production for import to the United States by 40,000 barrels per day, in response to dwindling supplies due to the war in Ukraine.

Note: Next month, PBI-Canada will be organizing a webinar with the PBI-Colombia accompanied José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) highlighting that, despite human rights concerns, Colombian coal exports have also increased to Canada and Europe due to the war in Ukraine. Stay tuned for more on that.

Recent human rights reports cite connections between Ecopetrol, armed paramilitary groups, and violence against environmental leaders in Puerto Wilches, although Ecopetrol has denied the allegations.

Note: In a May 2022 webinar organized by PBI-Canada, Colombian environmental defenders highlighted their concerns about the links between Ecopetrol, paramilitary groups and the threats and attacks against environmental defenders.

Note: PBI-Canada has also helped to amplify Oil Change International’s research that Toronto-based Scotiabank has provided more than $3 billion in financing to Ecopetrol since 2018, while the Government of Canada-owned public bank Export Development Canada (EDC) has provided $300 million to Ecopetrol between 2012 and 2020.

Note: Colombian environmental defender Yuvelis Natalia Morales commented about Canada on a PBI-Canada organized webinar: “When your companies and banks are investing in mining and energy megaprojects in other countries where human rights are being violated every day, you are not an environmentalist country, you are not a green country. I’m sorry to be so blunt. This is a reality that people don’t often want to say because when you open your mouth that could mean you are shot in the forehead.”

Note: On July 5, 2022, PBI-Colombia and PBI-Canada raised concerns at a meeting at the Embassy of Canada in Bogota about the suspected links between Ecopetrol and paramilitaries, Canadian financing of Ecopetrol, and the threats experienced by environmental defenders. We continue to monitor and document concerns about these links.

During the contentious debates on the fracking ban, [Colombia’s Minister of Mines and Energy Irene] Vélez noted that the other 380 already signed oil contracts would not be prohibited (presumably these would go through extensive government scrutiny), and that any future contracts would only be eligible for approval between six to eight years from now.

Note: Before Gustavo Petro was sworn in as the president of Colombia on August 7, 2022, the previous president, Ivan Duque, oversaw the issuing of 69 new exploration blocks between 2019 and 2021. Portafolio has reported that with 26 blocks of those blocks going to Parex, 4 to Frontera Energy, 5 to Canacol Energy Ltd. (which operates as CNE Oil and Gas in Colombia) and 4 to Gran Tierra Energy (both Canacol and Gran Tierra are Calgary-based companies), 39 of the 69 new blocks went to four Canadian companies.

Note: We are monitoring public statements by these companies on Colombia’s energy transition plan. Gabriel de Alba, Chairman of the Frontera Energy Board of Directors (and co-chairman of the board of directors of the Montreal-based entertainment company Cirque du Soleil), has already told Semana: “I think the Duque Government’s approach with scientific [fracking] pilots to obtain supported information is the right one. I don’t think it’s convenient to deny us that opportunity.”

Throughout the debates, it has been evident that community-led opposition to fracking is key to pushing the ban forward.

The hearings will extend into early 2023.

The full article Patricia Rodríguez can be read at Is Colombia One Step Away from a Fracking Ban? (NACLA, February 8, 2023).

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