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Canadian companies welcome fracking pilot projects in Colombia

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 Manatee. Image credit: Chris Muenzer/Wikimedia Commons

While critics say fracking "torpedoes our global efforts to tackle climate change and violates basic human rights," there are Canadian companies welcoming the authorization of two fracking projects in the ecologically sensitive Magdalena Medio region of Colombia.

The National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH), basically the equivalent of Canada's National Energy Board, recently authorized Ecopetrol and ExxonMobil to undertake fracking pilot projects near the community of Puerto Wilches, Santander.

The two companies will invest about $129.7 million in these pilot projects.

Notably, the Platero project that ExxonMobil has been authorized to pursue is on an exploration block where Toronto-based Sintana Energy (through its Colombian subsidiary, Patriot Energy) holds a 30 per cent interest.

Sintana says that it is "encouraged by the ANH's acceptance of ExxonMobil's bid for Project Platero" and that the fracking pilot project process "should now provide an effective path forward for the testing and production of source rock hydrocarbons in future operations."

Calgary-based Canacol Energy says that it is also now pursuing an "independent prospective evaluation of resources" in two blocks of land in the Magdalena Medio region and that it "reaffirms the materiality and significant potential of Canacol's unconventional shale oil blocks."

The CEO of Canacol has stated that he sees the Ecopetrol and ExxonMobil fracking pilot projects "to be 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."

The implications for climate change are profound. The president of Ecopetrol says there may be up to seven billion barrels of oil in the pilot area. Overall, there may be up to 12 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil in the country.

There are also significant implications for aquatic life. The Colombian Territorial Development Observatory Corporation has pointed out that the ExxonMobil Platero project is located just seven kilometres away from the Ciénaga El Llanito wetland, which is the habitat of the endangered Antillean manatee.

And the risks to environmental human rights defenders opposed to fracking are deadly. Already, six members of the Alliance for a Colombia Free of Fracking have received death threats. This in a country in which 177 human rights defenders were killed last year.

To hear directly from four environmental defenders, all of whom have recently received death threats, you can join this webinar on Thursday, April 29.

They will speak about their opposition to fracking, their concerns about Canadian oil and gas companies in Colombia, and the need for international solidarity.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can follow PBI-Canada at @PBIcanada.

Image credit: Chris Muenzer/Wikimedia Commons

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