Oil Extraction in Colombia: Report Reveals the Human and Environmental Costs of Black Gold

(Bogotá) Canadian multinational Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. - operating in partnership with the Colombian majority State-owned 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 area in which at least 25% 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 numerous stakeholders including national authorities, companies and 598 surveys conducted with local residents, workers and indigenous communities. This report is being released only 11 days after operations at Rubiales, the country’s most productive oil field, were transferred from Pacific E&P to Colombian company Ecopetrol. Meanwhile Pacific E&P is currently undergoing insolvency proceedings in Canada to avoid bankruptcy.

Today NGOs ask the following question: "Who will assume responsibility at this point and provide remedy for social and environmental damage 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 must act now".

The report documents environmental damages and the apparent repeated breach 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 reinjection 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 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 interviewed perform core permanent activities.

It also reveals what could qualify as illegal actions carried out by the multinational company and its security contractors, which impede employees’ rights to free association, in particular their right to join the Union Sindical Obrera (USO) and, encourage the use of the justice system to criminalize trade union, social, and environmental leaders in the region. The organizations had access to files containing information about intelligence activities regarding trade union leaders. 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 to ensure human rights can be respected in communities that suffer from the effects of extractive projects.

Download and read the executive summary of the report in English

Download and read the report (in Spanish)

Download and read the infographic

To see all documents and annexes (in spanish),click here

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