Yes but no to fracking in Colombia: Commission of experts

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The commission of experts appointed by the national government delivered its conclusions on February 14, what was the verdict?

Yes per no to fracking in Colombia: commission of experts

The commission of experts appointed by the national government to evaluate the viability of the extraction of hydrocarbons through the technique of hydraulic stimulation of the generating rock, better known as Fracking, worked from November 2018 until last week and delivered its conclusions on February 14. With the results, many doubts are cleared for some and great challenges for the state in face of the possibility of carrying out this practice forbidden by some countries and practiced by others and which, in all cases, provokes even deeper discussions than the same oil wells.

Leer en español: Sí pero no al fracking en Colombia: Comisión de expertos

The conclusions and recommendations were presented by Juan Pablo Ruiz. "The commission recommends by consensus, that by meeting the prerequisites, we can move forward with pilot research projects (PPI) within the conditions that we have also indicated in the document and consider that the main recommendations have to do with actions that should be taken by the Colombian state," said Ruiz, an expert in environmental policy and environmental resource management in Latin America and a member of the commission of experts in charge of narrating the conclusions of the joint work.

Ruiz added that within these conditions "one is to make information accessible, that is supremely important and is not being met, also the development of institutional capabilities, because we can say that the same companies, in different countries with similar regulations, they act in one way or another, that depends on the social pressure and the capacity of the institutionality to force compliance with environmental regulations, that is a certain fact and in Colombia we have experienced it at different times".

One of the experts of this commission was Armando Zamora, first General Director of the National Hydrocarbons Agency and expert in oil regulation and policy matters. Zamora served as master of ceremonies and headed the report of this commission.

"We must make it clear that we are not asking to stop the exploration that is taking place now, we consider it part of this experimental pilot, it is part of the lessons learned, we do not intend to stop the exploration that is taking place now but in these processes, the stages are gradually being carried out,"Zamora said.

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For his part, Rodrigo Negrete, one of the most respected and knowledgeable environmental lawyers and licensing of large projects of great impact in the most biodiverse country in the world per square meter, said that "the work of this commission is insufficient, Colombia does not have the institutionality, nor mining or environmental, to make adequate monitoring and follow-up. I give the example of the well Lizama, it was a well that was already sealed, which had already finished and such a problem with that catastrophic spill we had in Santander, and that this was a conventional exploitation, now, do you imagine what can be expected from such a strong risk uncertainty that is associated with fracking? "

Negrete added that "the trial and error issue does not apply in these cases, the risk is so great, Colombia is a mega-diverse country, there is a population near each exploration point, that is too high a risk and one should have the absolute certainty that it will not generate a dramatic impact on biodiversity and on human communities and that it will never be able to guarantee it with such a highly risky activity; we are not prepared to institutionally assume this type of risk."

"The scope of this study was to get to know the concerns of the communities and to go to studies that are already made, not to make a new scientific study because we are not going to try a new theory, intead we will go to accumulated knowledge" said the expert in hydrocarbons when asked if the three months of work that had this commission of experts were enough to issue a complete and sufficient concept.

For his part, Negrete Montes said that "this was a job in just three months, it was taken lightly, I'm sorry for Gonzalo Andrade who I said from the beginning that the conclusion was to be affirmative in reference to fracking and that they were going to use it to legitimize the recommendations that came out of there". Finally he insisted that "Colombia is a country with a supremely weak institutional framework, the disasters of Hidroituango and many more demonstrate it".

For his part, Gonzalo Andrade, director of the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia and member of the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences was in charge of talking about the threats associated with fracking in reference to biodiversity.

Andrade began his presentation with reference to biodiversity, which Colombia counts as wealth and national heritage. "Colombia is categorized as one of the megadiverse countries and within that group is the one that occupies the first and second places in the richness of species of flora and fauna but also occupies the first places in endemic species, that is, species that are only found in this country".

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He referred to the deficiency and almost nonexistence of baseline information of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Magdalena Medio, "undoubtedly about biodiversity there is also a huge ignorance and about 85% of the groundwater in Colombian territory and at national level we have of 20 ecosystems, that is, 25% that are categorized in a critical state, 21% are in danger and 17% are in a vulnerable state. That is to say that about 63% of the ecosystems in the national territory are threatened and their conditions question their permanence and the provision of ecosystem services for these areas of the country, in the Magdalena Medio valley these ecosystems are threatened by the issue of hydrocarbons "

Preconditions to the Research Pilot Projects for Fracking

1. Comply with the Transparency and Access to Public Information Law. Disclose all available information associated and identify gaps in information (ecosystems, hydrogeology, seismicity, etc.)

2. Identify needs Institutional capacity to follow up Pilot Research Projects.

3. Identify needs Training of local personnel to participate in the activities of Pilot Research Projects.

4. Identify and disclose Minimum Impact Technology that will be used for the Pilot Research Projects.

5. Adjust regulation for selection, use, and monitoring of minimum impact technologies.

6. Agree on citizen participation and oversight mechanisms in the Pilot Research Projects.

7. Agree to manage health risks with residents close to the place of Pilot Research Projects.

8. Construction of social baseline (health, economic, use of Natural Resources) and environmental (terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems)

These, according to Ruiz, "would be the preconditions to start the research projects". However, it should be noted that Armando Zamora immediately after Juan Pablo Ruiz finalized his part in the final presentation clarified that "we must make it clear that we are not asking to stop the exploration that is taking place now."

It is not clear if they are finally preconditions to the PPI or if they are simply greeting to the flag while the questioned activity is developing.


LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño

Translated from "Sí pero no al fracking en Colombia: Comisión de expertos"