Pacific abandons one million hectare concession including indigenous peoples’ territories along Brazil border
By David Hill
The Guardian, April 26, 2017.- A Canadian-headquartered company, Pacific Exploration and Production, has pulled out of a huge oil and gas concession overlapping a new national park in the Peruvian Amazon. The concession, Lot 135, includes approximately 40% of the Sierra del Divisor national park established in 2015.
The concession has provoked opposition in Peru and just across the border in Brazil for many years, including regular statements since 2009 from indigenous Matsés people in both countries and a lawsuit recently filed by regional indigenous federation ORPIO. Both Lot 135 and the park overlap territory used by the Matsés and a proposed reserve for indigenous people living in “isolation.”
Pacific signed a contract for the concession in 2007, the year after a significant chunk of it had been declared a supposedly “protected natural area” but eight years before it became a national park.
The company’s decision to pull out was made public by UK-headquartered NGO Survival International. Institutional Relations and Sustainability Manager Alejandro Jimenez Ramirez told Survival in a letter dated 13 March 2017:
As you may know, the company has a new management and post evaluations of current opportunities, it has made the decision to relinquish its exploration rights in Block 135 and return the block to Perupetro [the Peruvian state entity responsible for establishing concessions and contracting companies] effective immediately. To date legal processes are underway. . . [W]e wish to reiterate the company’s commitment to conduct its operations under the highest sustainability and human rights guidelines, avoiding damages to cultures and their surroundings; a value promise we feel remains intact.
Perupetro confirmed to the Guardian that Pacific has pulled out, stating that the last day of its contract was 13 March, when the company wrote to Survival. “That is the reason why Lot 135 now doesn’t appear on our [March 2017] map,” says Perupetro’s communications officer Candice Suarez Oppe.
ORPIO’s David Freitas called Pacific’s decision “good news”, but warned that the concession still exists - and therefore another company could be contracted to operate there.
“The essential thing is for Lot 135 to be annulled,” Freitas told the Guardian. “It can be done. More pressure [is required].”
ORPIO’s lawsuit, supported by the Lima-based Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), requests the judge to order the Energy Ministry and Perupetro to re-draw the boundaries of Lot 135 so the proposed reserve for indigenous peoples in “isolation” is excluded. It also requests the judge to order the state entity running the park, SERNANP, to modify the management plan so the proposed reserve - and another proposed reserve - become “strictly protected” zones.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2016, but to date the judge has not formally responded.
“We hope that the judge, Jose Enrique Reategui, will admit our lawsuit and then emit his sentence as soon as possible,” says IDL’s Maritza Quispe. “The indigenous peoples in isolation and initial contact in the proposed reserves are put at serious risk by the park and the superimposition of the oil concessions.”
Sierra del Divisor is Peru’s third biggest national park, adjacent to the border with Brazil. It is home to numerous eco-systems, an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, and river headwaters feeding into key Amazon tributaries. It boasts the “only mountainous region” in the lowland rainforest, according to Peruvian NGO Instituto del Bien Comun, and its most iconic topographical feature, El Cono, can be seen from the Andes on a clear day.
In 2012 and 2013 Pacific explored in what is now the north of the park and, according to ORPIO’s Freitas, it had been planning further exploration as recently as mid-2016. Freitas told the Guardian that operations by the company - including seismic tests - almost certainly drove some of the people in “isolation” across the border into Brazil’s Javari Valley.
“They don’t acknowledge the border,” he says. “There’s a great deal of protection [on the Brazilian side] and they can live peacefully there. Maybe, for now, those who went into Brazil will come back [to Peru].”
Survival’s statement implied that Pacific pulled out partly because of a campaign it has been running against operations in Lot 135 as well as opposition from the Rainforest Foundation Norway and Peruvian indigenous federations ORPIO, AIDESEP and ORAU, but the company reportedly disputes that.
“The firm says its decision came down to business not public pressure,” states a Reuters article published in March. “It decided not to develop one million hectares of land deep in the jungle on the Peru-Brazil border because of financial concerns, a company spokeswoman said. . . “We made operational decisions not to pursue this concession. . . it has nothing to do with pressure,” the Pacific Exploration spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”
Pacific was US$5.4 billion in debt as of late 2015, according to company documents. It filed for bankruptcy in April 2016 and was then restructured.
Asked by the Guardian why the company abandoned Lot 135, communications coordinator Carolina Azcuenaga says Pacific now has new management which evaluated “current opportunities” and decided to “focus on its assets in Colombia and other concessions in different parts of Peru.”
Lot 135 extends for more than one million hectares and is estimated by Perupetro to hold prospective deposits of almost one billion barrels of oil.