Press Conference: the Human and Environmental Costs of Oil Extraction in Colombia

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Project for International Accompaniment and Solidarity in Colombia (PASO), and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR),

Cordially extend a public invitation to a press conference Tuesday July 12 at 11:00 am at the Hotel Estellar Suites, Salón Arco, Calle 61 # 5-39, Bogota.

Press Release

Contact: Neil Martin;; (COL) 311 561 8403; Skype Neil.Martin25

Canadian multinational Pacific Exploration & Production Corp., operating in partnership with the Colombian company Ecopetrol and a plethora of subcontracted firms, violates labor regulations, causes environmental damage, and negatively impacts the survival of indigenous communities in Puerto Gaitan, Meta – the department in which more than half of Colombia’s oil is extracted. Furthermore, repression and criminalization targeting labor, social, and environmental leaders has increased in the region with the expansion of the oil industry. These are the findings of a report produced by FIDH, CCAJAR, and PASO which is being presented today in Bogota.

The report focuses on the Rubiales-Pirirí (hereinafter Rubiales) and Quifa oil concessions, and was prepared based on official documents, interviews with national authorities and private enterprises, and 598 surveys conducted with local residents, workers and indigenous communities. This report is being released only 11 days since operations at Rubiales, the country’s most productive oil field, transitioned from Pacific E&P to Colombian company Ecopetrol. Meanwhile Pacific E&P is currently in insolvency proceedings in Canada to avoid bankruptcy.

Today NGOs ask the following question: “Who will assume responsibility at this point and repair social and environmental liabilities incurred over the course of the past years? The situation indicates that both Colombia and Canada have failed to meet their obligations to ensure that companies respect human rights and that victims are able to obtain redress. They should act now”.

The report documents environmental damages and the repeated violation of environmental licenses, particularly in the form of contamination discharged into Rubiales Creek (Caño Rubiales) and the unexplained generation of earthquakes in the municipality of Puerto Gaitan, which seem to be tied to the re-injection of production water. According to the National Seismological Network and the Colombian Geological Service, 976 earthquakes were recorded between April 2, 2013 and June 28, 2016, as opposed to 11 from 1999 to 2013.

In this context, the rights of the Sikuani indigenous people to prior consultation has also been severely impacted by an imbalance and abuse of power between the company and communities in the absence of state control agencies. None of the prior consultation records indicate a presence of the Ombudsman’s Office or the Inspector General’s Office.

The report also describes repeated labor violations at the operations of Pacific and its subcontracted partners, and raises questions about illegal subcontracting. For example, it found that 76% of outsourced workers perform core permanent activities.

It also reveals the illegal actions of multinational and security contractors, which impede employees’ rights to free association, in particular their right to join the Union Sindical Obrera (USO) and, hand in hand with the authorities, encourage the use of the justice system to criminalize trade union, social, and environmental leaders in the region. Some 81% of the personnel surveyed felt that the company where they worked did not allow free and voluntary union membership, and 79% thought they could be fired in retaliation for joining the union USO.

The report forwards conclusions and recommendations to government entities, private companies, and the Canadian government so that human rights can be respected in communities that suffer from the effects of extraction projects.