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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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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