Thomson Reuters Foundation

Inform - Connect - Empower

Peru indigenous group wants courts to stop natgas expansion

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 12 Dec 2012 18:35 GMT
Author: Reuters
Tweet Recommend Google + LinkedIn Email Print
Leave us a comment

By Mitra Taj

LIMA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Peru's main indigenous group said on Wednesday it will ask the courts to halt an expansion of the country's largest natural gas field over concerns that new drilling will harm isolated tribes.

Aidesp, as the group is known, wants to overturn a regulatory approval the government gave in April for a ${esc.dollar}70 million project by the Camisea gas consortium in an oil block that overlaps an indigenous reserve.

It also wants to prevent other expansion plans in the reserve.

The filings, expected next month, could further delay President Ollanta Humala's ambitious energy agenda and build on a September ruling from Peru's constitutional court that upheld the right of indigenous communities to defend their lands from encroaching loggers or miners.

"It's not a binding precedent, but it was a hopeful sentence for indigenous people and we think we can do something similar," said Aidesep lawyer Julio Ibanez. "We have the law on our side and can win."

Argentine energy firm Pluspetrol, which leads the Camisea consortium that produces most of the country's natural gas, declined to comment on potential lawsuits but said it has fully complied with Peruvian law.

One of its concessions in Peru's southeastern jungle, known as Block 88, overlaps the Kugapakori-Nahua and Nanti indigenous reserve, established in 2003.

"Block 88 was created in the year 2000, before the reserve prohibited the granting of new rights in the territory," the company said in a statement. "It has been decreed that Camisea is in the nation's interest and a necessity."


Peru's rules governing natural resource extraction projects and tribal areas in the Amazon have, in some ways, evolved to give indigenous groups more protections as the government tries to balance competing priorities.

In a bid to defuse widespread social tensions over natural resources, Humala persuaded Congress in 2011 to pass a "consultation law" that requires the government and companies to talk with indigenous communities about how their lands are used.

But the law doesn't grant tribes veto power and, experts agree, it would probably be impossible to apply it to benefit isolated tribes.

Peru's proven and certified reserves in Camisea total 10.3 trillion cubic feet (TCF). About 8 tcf are in Block 88. The rest is in the adjacent Block 56.

Finding new gas deposits is a top goal of Humala, who took office promising to make gas cheaply available for everything from cars and power plants to petrochemical factories.

Humala's efforts to build new pipelines have at times been hobbled by lenders wanting to see more proven gas reserves.

Many new gas-fired power plants, built to add new electricity to the fast-growing economy's grid, lack supply guarantees.

Ibanez, of Aidesep, said the 2003 law that established the indigenous reserve forbade new exploration and drilling beyond what was already underway.

But the government says Ibanez's interpretation of the law goes too far.

"Authorizations for the start of different activities are made bit-by-bit," said Vice Minister of Culture Ivan Lanegra. "This does not amount to a new concession."

Potential delays in Camisea are not limited to tensions with indigenous groups.

Humala has replaced at least three defense ministers since taking office more than a year ago as the government struggles to stamp out what remains of a leftist insurgency that trafficks in coca and cocaine near the gas fields.

In April the guerrillas took some three dozen Camisea contract workers hostage. They were released unharmed.

Part of Humala's gas plans include strengthening the state-run firm Petroperu in the style of Brazil's brawny Petrobras and steering more gas to domestic use instead of exporting it as a liquid.

"This is the future: Peruvian gas by Peruvians, for Peruvians and for the development of Peru," he has said.

Daniel Rodriguez, an anthropologist with the indigenous organization Fenamad in the Madre de Dios region, said he hopes the courts can halt new drilling.

He says outsiders can expose tribes to common diseases and that 60 percent of the population of the Nahua tribe was wiped out by illness 30 years ago.

"This is not something we are making up, it is something that has already happened," he said.

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more information see our Acceptable Use Policy.

comments powered by Disqus
Most Popular

Latest slideshow

See allSee all
Featured jobs