An expert commission has given the go-ahead for fracking pilot projects in Colombia, despite President Ivan Duque’s promise not to use the controversial method and questions about the legitimacy of the panel’s methods.
Only three members of the 13-person commission were truly independent, with numerous fuel industry professionals, according to the Alliance for a Fracking-Free Colombia (AFFC).
There was only one woman on the panel, which had only three months to write the report. Public consultation was also serious lacking — the panel held just three meetings with regional communities.
Fracking is an industrial process which breaks apart rock formations deep underground to extract fossil fuels. Water is pumped down a well at high pressure, with sand and toxic chemicals, which fluid fractures the rock and releases gas or oil. The process has regularly contaminated water supplies, and has been linked to increased seismic activity.
“There are ecological risks as well as public health risks,” Tatiana Roa of AFFC told Colombia Reports.
More than 90% of Colombians are against fracking in Colombia, according to a poll taken this Monday. The ecological stakes are high – Colombia has the second highest biodiversity of any nation on the planet, and has 10% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders.
There is, however, big money to be made by fracking in Colombia: oil reserves currently reach 2 billion barrels, equivalent to about 5 years of supplies. According to President of EcoPetrol Felipe Bayon, fracking would increase reserves by between 2 billion and 7 billion barrels.
President Duque made numerous promises during his election campaign that there would be no fracking under his presidency: many of Duque’s election promises have, however, turned out to be false.
Tatiana Roa told us that, given the extractivist model of government and economy in Colombia, a U-turn is not unlikey: “The promise of the president was never credible for us. It was not a surprise to us that Duque initiated conditions in favour of fracking after his campaign.”
There are, in fact, two fracking exploration projects already underway in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia.
Though Duque himself pointed out repeatedly during his election campaign that fracking would put Colombia’s underground water sources and its biodiversity at risk, as well as expose the country to further seismic activity.
Minister for Mines and Energy María Fernanda Suárez announced a serious and concerted effortto convince President Duque, among others, that fracking can be done in a responsible and safe way. Silvia Gomez, director of Greenpeace in Colombia, says that this is simply not possible.
The report did acknowledge and accept a number of submissions and recommendations by expert groups about the risks of fracking, the lack of adequate information about the possible effects on Colombia, and Colombia’s weak institutions. Nevertheless, the panel recommended that further exploration is carried out.
Colombia: too weak to frack?
In the light of the huge ecological damage caused by mismanagement of the Hidroituango Dam in recent weeks, there is a serious question around the competency of the Colombian government to manage or oversee such a project.The National Environmental Licensing Authority has recognized that it does not have the capacity to monitor mega-projects.
The commission and environmentalists alike expressed concerns about Colombia´s institutions being capable of meeting the demands which fracking would bring, including stronger transparency and oversight, and more civic participation.
President Duque has yet to publicly respond to the recommendations, but three anti-fracking bills are pending in Congress. Two seek to ban fracking, the other would establish a moratorium until there is enough research to make an informed decision.
Activism around big industry, especially extractive projects in rainforest areas, is among the most deadly in the world, reported International human rights group Frontline defenders. In the context of the recent spate of killings of activists and social leaders in Colombia, the possibility of more mega-projects and big industry are even more disquieting.