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As Oil Reserves Decline, Colombia Looks To Fracking

Colombia may have massive shale oil and gas reserves that could cover the decline in its crude output, but environmentalists are raising alarms.

Laborers work to extract oil in Colombia
Laborers work to extract oil in Colombia
El Espectador

BOGOTÁ — In the past three years, Colombia has seen a depletion of some 500 million barrels of crude from its national oil reserves, a bona fide threat to its energy self-sufficiency.

To counter this, Colombian energy leaders have begun to consider a turn to so-called "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to extract crude oil from shale stone. The national oil form Ecopetrol, which produces 70% of the country's oil, announced early this year a 14% drop in its oil reserves thanks to low prices — a disincentive to exploration — and may even have lost up to 20% of its reserves because of this.

This means the country is down to some 1.7 billion barrels, which would meet its needs only until 2023.

The principle of caution must prevail.

Julio César Vera, president of the Colombian Association of Oil Engineers (ACIPET), says exploration and seismology are at very low levels, adding that "as production falls, reserves also fall."

The country's main potential for fracking exploitation is the Magdalena Medio, a strip running up central Colombia through the departments of Santander, Cesar and northern Boyacá. Tapping into shale "would allow us to go from 1.6 billion barrels to more than 7 billion," Vera says. ACIPET puts fracking's production potential at between five and eight billion barrels of crude oil annually, and possibly 60 trillion cubic feet of gas. The country's current gas reserves are below seven trillion cubic feet.

But the water and environmental protection group Cordatec is already denouncing the environmental harm that the new oil exploration could wreak. "We are not prepared for fracking," says the group memeber, Óscar Vanegas, a lecturer at the Santander Industrial University. "We haven't done the necessary in-depth scientific research to be sure, and the principle of caution must prevail," he says.

The National Environmental Licenses Authority (ANLA), part of the Environment Ministry, says ExxonMobil is the only firm to have applied so far for a fracking license in the district of Puerto Wilches. "We have an application from ExxonMobil for the Magdalena Medio Valley and have yet to decide," said a spokesman.

Juan Carlos Rodríguez, ACIPET's executive director, says the extraction technique of "hydraulic stimulation" has long been present in Colombia and offers a gateway into the shale gas exploration. Fracking's environmental impact, he said, could be limited with "current technology."

ACIPET, representing Colombia's oil industry engineers, has announced it would take legal action to defend the "right" to pursue shale exploitation in the face of public initiatives currently underway to impede it in the central Colombian district of Cumaral. Says ACIPET's president Vera: "The possibility of losing 40 years of oil self-sufficiency is of great concern."

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Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen


HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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