Pluspetrol, the oil company leading Peru’s Camisea gas project, plans to continue expanding into a protected Amazon reserve, despite the United Nations’ call for suspending the project.
The Peruvian government partnered with Pluspetrol to establish the operation, which represents the country’s largest energy development to date. According to The Guardian, expansion will mean 18 oil wells and various seismic tests in an “intangible” reserve for indigenous people.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people recommended last month that the Peruvian government conduct a study of the project’s impact before continuing, but it appears that the Camisea gas project will go forward without that assessment.
Concerns include health threats and violence between indigenous groups and the oil company in Peru, as well as devastating environmental impacts to the Amazon. Peru deals with this issue in other realms, as well: illegal gold mining is also currently destroying sections of the rainforest.
Blocking and approving Camisea in Peru
Expansion of the Camisea gas project rests on approval from Peru’s Ministry of Culture.
The vice-ministry of inter-culturality (VMI) made 37 environmental “observations” in August about the project, blocking Pluspetrol’s expansion until each was addressed. The VMI had expressed particular concerns over how Camisea would impact two indigenous groups living in the protected reserve: The report went so far as to say that gas project expansion could cause the extinction of the Nanti and Kirineri groups. It also noted the significant impact drilling would have on the biodiversity of the area.
In that initial report, the VMI stated that helicopter flights, noisy machinery, explosives, and clearing areas of the rainforest would all be detrimental to the indigenous groups, who used the rainforest area in question for hunting and gathering. The report went on to say that the inability to access clean water or continue their usual migration patterns could prove fatal to those groups.
A quick governmental scuffle followed the report’s issue, however, within days, the report was withdrawn and responsible governmental figures had resigned, according to the Huffington Post.
The Peruvian government executed a quick turnaround, and as of mid-January, they’ve stated that Pluspetrol has addressed 34 of the 37 initial “observations” about the project. For the Camisea gas project to move forward, Pluspetrol needs only to address the last three.
The UN added its voice to the debate in December, when the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, issued a recommendation to the Peruvian government.
In his recommendation, Anaya urged the Peruvian government to conduct an extensive review of the social and environmental impacts expansion would have, noting that the indigenous groups living within Pluspetrol’s proposed gas project area were extremely vulnerable. Anaya recommended that the review include all affected parties, including experts on the particular indigenous peoples living in the area.
Anaya went on to say that in light of the potential infringement on human rights, the government should work with the indigenous communities prior to agreeing to the Camisea gas project expansion. In discussing the communities he had personally spoken to, Anaya pointed out that none of them had been consulted about the project’s use of their territory and resources.
Despite the UN recommendation, the Peruvian government seems to be moving forward with Camisea. According to PeruThisWeek.com, the new VMI said that before they’ll address Anaya’s report, the government must “revise and issue an opinion on the [UN] report and then it must be accepted by the UN human rights council who will send it to us as an official document.”
Some have suggested that hanging the recommendation on a procedural detail is simply a means of sidelining the issue.
Health, environmental and conflict concerns
In addition to a major disruption to their way of life and territory, which in and of itself could be devastating, indigenous groups in the proposed Camisea gas project area face health threats.
Because these groups are and have been isolated for as long as they’ve lived, first contact with outside groups, such as those from Pluspetrol, could introduce diseases against which the indigenous tribes have no defenses. Survival International, an international group working to protect the rights of people living in voluntary isolation, pointed out that Shell’s intrusion in the Peruvian Amazon during the 1980s ended up killing half the Nahua tribe by way of new diseases.
Many observers are also concerned about the potential for violence between gas company workers and indigenous groups.
According to The Guardian, Pluspetrol oil has assured the Peruvian government that it has an “anthropological contingency plan,” should there be “undesired contacts with people in isolation.”
The company has not named the specifics of that plan.
Finally, the area that Pluspetrol plans to use for drilling sits just outside Manu National Park, an area Unesco has called one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. While Anaya noted that the oil company has taken steps to decrease their environmental impact, questions remain about how development, noise, and human interaction will ultimately affect this area of the Amazon.
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