Fracking in Colombia: Who, Where and Why?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in Colombia and elsewhere, is a technique of hydraulic activation that allows or increases the extraction of gas, in addition to oil, from underground. Generally, it requires the injections of high concentrations of water, sand and chemical compounds into the ground which eventually allows gas and oil trapped beneath the bedrock to surface.

Colombia began authorizing fracking practices after the Mining and Energy Ministry gave the green light to begin such practices in 2014 after establishing a regulatory framework in order to minimize risks associated with the practice. In the latest round of oil and gas concession auctions carried out by the Colombian government, 19 of the 98 bids went to fracking sites, where foreign and national investors hope to exploit the deposits of shale oil and gas. Some major oil companies such as Shell, Ecopetrol (Colombia’s state-run oil company), Exxon Mobil, and Nexen Petroleum are a just a few of the corporations who have purchased the developing rights to the various fracking sites.

Specifically, in 2015 Exxon Mobil Corp. filed for an environmental permit to explore for shale oil and natural gas in Colombia using hydraulic fracturing technology, in a bid to become the first driller to use the controversial technique.

However, for Colombia’s largest oil producer, Ecopetrol, prices need to rise at least above $70 per barrel before fracking makes economic sense, despite the country’s geological potential, according to Exploration Vice President Max Torres.

Recently, a controversy has broken after the mayor of La Macarena, a municipality in the center of Colombia, said that the country’s environmental authority allowed oil company Hupecol to carry out exploratory fracking activities near the Serrania de la Macarena National Park. It’s in this park where three rivers come together to form the Caño Cristales river, a natural beauty of the world.

The Caño Cristales is known as the “river of five colors” due to the combination of the vivid red and green flora and the deep gold, black, and olive green of the riverbed. While one of the country’s most beautiful rivers, the Caño Cristales is also unique because it lies on the frontier of the Andes mountain range, the Amazon forest and Colombia’s eastern plains. “We in the Macarena have been preparing for 15 years to become a tourist and ecological zone,” Mayor Ismael Medellin told Caracol Radio.

The news that environmental authority ANLA had granted permission for fracking activities in the area were received with shock, not just by the locals, but also ecotourism operators who slowly have been able to bring tourists to one of Colombia’s most beautiful sites.

The mayor, joined by other locals, went to Bogota on Thursday to urge “the Ministry of Environment to revise the license and revoke it because it damages the biodiversity in La Macarena and nearby areas.”

Hupecol is one of the first companies to explore the newly made available oil fields. According to the economic website BNamericas, Hupecol is a company held under the umbrella corporation of the Dan A. Hughes Company from Beeville, TX, which claims to have been active in oil exploitation in Colombia since 1996.

While at the same time as destroying Colombia’s fragile ecosystem, the company also claims to hold high standards in regards to “environmental responsibility” in its “development of energy resources.”

However, the pro-environment marketing of the company has been received with criticism in Colombia. “They should get their act together and invest in alternative fuel. We have the knowledge and technology, but unfortunately not the common sense,” ecotourism operator Peter Doede said.

Another ecotourism operator, The Colombian Project, announced an online petition to ask President Juan Manuel Santos to step in and revoke the licence. Those interested in supporting this initiative can do so here.

Article by Victoria Balderworth.