Colombia: ConocoPhillips is "spinning" benefits of fracking, against the evidence and will of locals, says article

Sian Cowman, writer and researcher with The Democracy Center, documents irregularities she says she witnessed in San Martin, Colombia, where oil company ConocoPhillips convened a town hall meeting to comply with requirements to apply for an environmental license for unconventional fossil fuel exploration. We invited the company to respond; the response is provided below.

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Company response
6 August 2018

ConocoPhillips response

Author: ConocoPhillips

ConocoPhillips has continuously engaged with the community and local government over the past three years. We have gone beyond the required three rounds of socialization and engaged with local stakeholders through nearly 175 meetings, seminars and community roadshows....In certain instances, the national government has accompanied us to ensure and verify the quality of our stakeholder engagement process. We listened to stakeholders' concerns and addressed questions about our plans....These efforts were successful in securing the support of local leaders and the vast majority of community members, many of whom had questions and concerns at the beginning of the project...

...[W]ater was a concern for the community. As a result, we have publicly stated that we will not be competing with the local community for access to fresh water unless readily available/abundant, and instead will source water from alternative sources or third parties...The use of the hydraulic fracturing technique has generated a lot of media and activist attention in Colombia, which sometimes has emerged with positions and accusations that have no technical basis or which facts have been manipulated for political or private interests.

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16 July 2018

Colombians Determined Not to be Conned by ConocoPhillips’ Fracking Spin

Author: Sian Cowman, in Toward Freedom

...There are a series of externalized costs to [ConocoPhillips'] size and profits...They don't have a good safety record for their workers or the environment, with over $266 million in payouts through the courts due to environmental and safety infractions since 2000...that did not stop their corporate reps from trying to convince locals in San Martín César, northern Colombia, that they would carry out fracking 'responsibly and safely'...

On September 27, 2017, ConocoPhillips held a....type of town-hall meeting...I was present at the invite of local organization CORDATEC (the Corporation in Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems). The town hall meeting is a requirement for ConocoPhillips to apply for an environmental license for unconventional fossil fuel exploration...local activists...didn't want to miss out on the chance to...voice their disagreement with the project. But we were also acutely aware that just by being there we were legitimizing a supposed process of 'consultation' with the community...ConocoPhillips were completing a formality – they were not asking for feedback on locals' concerns in order to take them into account...

This empty formality seemed almost state-sanctioned. There was a representative from the national licensing agency (ANLA) present, Laura Torres......ConocoPhillips', Andres Rojas...did his best to convince the people...that fracking is a good thing...Local activist Carlos Andres Santiago pointed out, "If fracking is so great, if it brings so many benefits...then how come in Australia five out of seven states have banned it? Why is it that a month ago in Ireland the President signed into law the banning of fracking? Why is it that Germany and France are moving towards banning fracking?"

...They may face difficult odds, but...local activists are organizing to hold a popular consultation – a constitutional mechanism in Colombia that allows municipalities to hold referenda on land use. Nine municipalities in the country have already used the mechanism to ban mining and fossil fuel extraction in their territories...Unfortunately, while popular consultations are a powerful tool...that communities are using to their advantage to stop destructive mining and fossil fuel extraction, there are legal processes currently ongoing – pushed by a mining company – which could see the popular consultations become legally toothless...

...One of the most significant milestones of San Martin's anti-fracking campaign was the large protests in 2016 to stop machinery from accessing a test site – but locals have paid a high price in the form of stigmatization, police brutality and criminalization, and even death (though it's very hard to prove the corporation could be behind the suspicious deaths of local activists)...

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