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Canadian companies involved in upcoming Colombian fracking projects

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Image: Peace Brigades International

In November, Colombian human rights defenders will speak in Ottawa, Vancouver and Nanaimo. What can we glean from mainstream media reports about Canadian corporations involved in the oil and gas sector in Colombia?

What can we further discern about the companies that may have some involvement with the fracking pilot projects expected to start soon in that country?

Additionally, what impact might their business activities have on human rights, the environment and the peace process in Colombia?

Reuters has reported that "seven companies have put in bids for 11 oil exploration contracts in Colombia," including Frontera Energy, Parex Resources, and Gran Tierra Energy. The article also notes CNE Oil and Gas as a qualified bidder.

Let's look more closely at those Canadian companies as a starting point.

Toronto-based Frontera Energy

As Frontera's website notes, "Frontera Energy Corporation is a Canadian public company and a leading explorer and producer of crude oil and natural gas, with operations focused in Latin America." The website confirms that Frontera operates in Colombia.

The chief executive of pipeline company Oleoducto de Colombia said in August that the company is "ready to move increased crude output from the center of Colombia to the Caribbean if the use of fracking is approved in the Andean country," as Reuters reports

The article adds that "the 483 km (300 miles) long pipeline can transport up to 236,000 barrels per day and runs through the Magdalena Medio region, home to geological formations estimated to contain between two and seven billion barrels of crude."

In that article, Frontera Energy is named as a minority owner of that pipeline.

The online journal Colombia Report noted that when the Magdalena Valley to Coveñas oil pipeline was built in 1990, that construction negatively impacted peasants in the Zaragoza region of northern Antioquia, including the destruction of 150 water sources.

Calgary-based Parex Resources Inc.

The Parex website indicates that "Parex Resources Inc. is actively engaged in crude oil exploration, development, and production in Colombia. …Parex holds interests in approximately 2.3 million gross acres over 23 onshore blocks in Colombia's Llanos and Magdalena Basins."

On March 8, Reuters reported that "at least five companies are interested in six fracking blocs in Colombia, and use of the technique could nearly triple the country's reserves of crude and gas."

In that article, Colombian Mines and Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez names Parex as one of the companies interested in the fracking blocks.

Additionally, in this July 2017 interview, Colombian environmental activist Oscar Sampayo from the Environmental and Extractive Studies Group in Magdalena Medio commented, "What worries us is that in 2014 Parex directly entered Magdalena Medio in block VMM9. This block is located in the municipality of Simitarra in Santander. That block is destined for the development of a nonconventional deposit using fracking."

Calgary-based Gran Tierra Energy Inc.

The Gran Tierra website says that "Gran Tierra Energy Inc. is an independent international energy company focused on oil and natural gas exploration and production in Colombia and Ecuador."

An Oil Channel interview with a Gran Tierra executive highlights that the company holds 1.1 million acres (445,000 hectares) in contracts with the ANH to develop in Putumayo, but that Gran Tierra is a company that is focused on conventional projects, on conventional deposits, with conventional methods. This seemingly rules out their interest in fracking.

Putumayo is a department in the south-west part of Colombia, bordering Ecuador and Peru. It is considered part of the Amazon natural region and the Amazon rainforest.

Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd.

The Canacol website describes the company as "a leading natural gas exploration and production company in Colombia."

Bogota-based CNE Oil and Gas is a subsidiary of Canacol Energy Ltd.

In December 2015, Reuters reported that "U.S.-based ConocoPhillips and CNE Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Canada's Canacol Energy, have both signed non-traditional exploration agreements with the national hydrocarbons agency following the change."

That article adds that "exploration will take place in the VMM-3 block, in the northeastern provinces of Cesar and Santander, and will require at least $85 million in investment."

More recently, Reuters reported, "Colombia has shelved two environmental licensing requests made by oil companies ConocoPhillips and Canacol Energy Ltd for fracking projects in northern Cesar province."

That article also notes, "The companies did not meet minimum conditions for the Piranga project, a source from the licensing authority said, while the Plata project raised possible water protection concerns."

Notably, it also includes information from a source that "U.S.-based ConocoPhillips and Canada's Canacol can request to re-open the licensing process for the projects in the future . . . adding the decision is not a definitive no."

More questions, human rights implications

Little is known about the fracking pilot projects that are set to proceed in 2020.

On September 24, Reuters reported there would be four pilot projects run by Drummond, Ecopetrol, Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips according to the Colombia Petroleum Association. That article does not specify if Canacol/CNE Oil and Gas would be again working with Conoco Phillips on a fracking project next year.

On September 25, Reuters also quoted Ecopetrol chief executive Felipe Bayon saying there could be more than four pilot projects, while declining to specify the exact locations of the projects and which companies Ecopetrol might work with.

In terms of socio-environmental impacts, Columbia University's Earth Institute recently published an opinion piece by Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment researcher Alexander Rustler titled Fracking Could Threaten Peace in Colombia.

Peace Brigades International will continue to monitor the human rights and environmental implications of this rapidly evolving situation, listen to the concerns of human rights defenders in Colombia, and share information observed on the ground through a non-partisan analysis.

Part of that process involves bringing representatives from CREDHOS and CCALCP, two Colombian human rights organizations, to Canada this November for meetings with government officials, civil society groups and the legal community, as well as to speak at universities and public forums.

For more on those upcoming public forums, please see the Facebook event pages for Ottawa (Monday November 4)Vancouver (Wednesday November 6) and Nanaimo (Friday November 8).

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article was originally published on the Peace Brigades International-Canada website.

Image: Peace Brigades International

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