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Peru Considers Eliminating Environmental Impact Studies for Oil Exploration

Costa peruana. Foto del usuario ostill en Shutterstock

Peruvian coast. Photo by user ostill on Shutterstock

Update (10 March, 2014): In response to citizens’ concerns, the Ministry of Environment clarified [es] that the regulation that would eliminate environmental impact studies is still under development and that no final decisions have been made.

The newly appointed Minister of Energy and Mines, Eleodoro Mayorga, announced that he is working in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment on a regulation that eliminates the need to submit environmental impact studies on the seismic exploration phase of oil lots. The purpose is to accelerate investment in the sector.

The news [es] was announced during an event [es] held by the Peruvian Hydrocarbons Society on March 6, 2014. The event introduced the Hydrocarbon White Paper, a proposal from the private sector to the government with the goal of establishing a new social contract with businesses and communities.

The Minister of Energy and Mines further stated that “the industry is well established and the idea is to move from red tape to practical action.”

By its very nature, seismic exploration has a high impact on an ecosystem, as it is usually done in areas that are still pollution-free. In this regard, an article [es] by Elizabeth Bravo in Grain says:

Para la prospección sísmica, por ejemplo se abren trochas o líneas sísmicas de alrededor de 1 kilómetro de largo por 3-10 metros de ancho, si se aplican las mejores normas, pero con frecuencia superan los 10 metros de ancho. Además se construyen helipuertos para dar servicios a las operaciones sísmicas. En una campaña sísmica típica se talan hasta 1000 kilómetros y se construyen entre 1000 y 1200 helipuertos. Cada helipuerto tiene media hectárea, o más.

In seismic prospecting, for example, seismic trails or lines about 1 kilometer long by 3-10 meters wide are opened, if the best rules apply, but they often exceed 10 meters wide. Also helipads are built to provide services for the seismic operations. In a typical seismic survey up to 1,000 kilometers are cut, and between 1,000 and 1,200 helipads are built.  Each heliport uses half a hectare or more.

But that isn't all. Bravo adds:

Durante la prospección sísmica se producen niveles de ruido de gran magnitud, debido a las detonaciones de dinamita que se hacen cada 6 metros, así como el ruido producido por los helicópteros que suplen de materiales y alimentación a los trabajos sísmicos. Durante la perforación el ruido es menos fuerte, pero más constante. El movimiento constante de vehículos, el funcionamiento de las estaciones de separación y refinación, son también actividades muy ruidosas. Este ruido hace que los animales escapen o cambien su comportamiento alimenticio y reproductivo.

During seismic prospecting, noise of great magnitude occurs due to detonation of dynamite every 6 meters, and the noise produced by helicopters that supply materials and food for the seismic work. During drilling the noise is not as loud, but is more constant. The constant movement of vehicles, and the operation of the separation and refining stations are also activities that are very noisy. This noise causes the animals to run away or change their nutritional and reproductive behavior.

The first reactions of people involved with environmental conservation are of surprise and astonishment. Noticias Ser interviewed the anthropologist Alberto Chirif who stated [es]:

No he leído las declaraciones del ministro, pero si ha dicho eso me parece un gravísimo error. Con eso, simplemente han superado las apariencias porque, ciertamente, los EIA [estudios de impacto ambiental] han sido hasta hoy muy aparentes. Nunca un EIA ha llegado a frenar algún tipo de proyecto. Por otro lado, estos estudios son realizados por las mismas empresas que luego van a realizar intervenciones para extraer minerales o petróleo. En ese sentido, hay una cosa bastante perversa en el mecanismo de difusión de los estudios. Pero de ahí a decir que ya no se van a hacer me parece peor. Por lo menos con los EIA hay un mecanismo de presión a las empresas. Ahora los límites se desbordan.

I haven’t read the Minister’s statement, but if he said that, I think it’s a serious mistake. They’ve simply overcome appearances, because certainly the EIAs (environmental impact assessments) up until now have been very evident. An EIA has never stopped any type of project. On the other hand, these assessments are done by the same companies that will later step in to extract minerals or oil. In that sense, there is something very wrong in the diffusion mechanism for the assessments. But going from that to saying there won’t be any at all I think is worse. At least with the EIAs there is some mechanism for pressuring the companies. Now there are no limits.

The ex-Vice Minister of Environmental Management, José de Echave, writes [es] on the website Cooperacción that the term “red tape” is the argument used by the entrepreneurs of the National Society of Mining and Petroleum to describe any attempt to improve social and environmental policies as just another bureaucratic process:

Es lamentable que un ministro de Estado termine repitiendo los argumentos de los sectores más retrógrados del país, que se oponen y se seguirán oponiendo a cualquier intento de adecuar el país a los mejores estándares internacionales en materia ambiental y social.

It’s a shame that a State minister ends up repeating the arguments used by the most reactionary sectors of the country, which oppose and will continue to oppose any attempt to bring the country up to the highest international standards in environmental and social issues.

It should be remembered that seismic exploration is also carried out in the ocean, and that although in the case of the mass dolphin deaths in 2012 the government indicated that oil exploration did not cause it, there were several accusations [es] about it and not everybody was convinced. The NGO Mundo Azul, for example, states [es] on its Facebook page:

Decir que las empresas tienen suficientes estándares para ellos garantizar que el medio ambiente se protege es decir que BP tuve suficiente ética y sabiduría para evitar el derrame del Golfo de México – y todos sabemos que esto no era así. [...] En verdad es la primera vez que escucho que un gobierno regala el poder decisivo sobre el bienestar de la sociedad y del patrimonio natural de un país a empresas extranjeras. Me parece muy grave.

To say that companies have sufficient standards for them to guarantee that the environment is protected is like saying that BP had enough ethics and wisdom to prevent the Gulf of Mexico spill…and we all know this was not the case. […] It is really the first time I’ve heard of a government giving the deciding power over the welfare of society and the natural heritage of a country to foreign companies. It seems very serious.

Twitter reactions were about the same.

Ricardo Marapi, a journalist specializing in environmental issues, expressed:

Watch out—is the government really going to exempt EIS (environmental impact studies) in order to accelerate oil investments?

The Peruvian government on its role in regulating extractive activities: “The companies know what they need to do”
["Oil lot exploration will be let off the hook from assessments…Minister of Energy and Mines, Eleodoro Mayorga, announced that the regulations to expedite investments in the oil sector will be ready in the next few days."]

Meanwhile, conservationist Alvaro Durand points out how little the next UN Conference on Climate Change (COP20), to be held in Lima, means to the government.

A few months from the COP20 to be held in Lima, the Minister of Energy and Mines plans on exempting EIAs for oil

Congresswoman Verónika Mendoza opined:

Very worrisome: the Minister of Energy and Mines proposes to exempt the EIAs for oil exploration

Question for the Ministry of the Environment: Do you endorse elimination of EIAs for oil exploration? Look out—you’re the government body of the EIA system.

I’m sure the Kukama of Pacaya Samiria are all for exemption from EIAs for oil exploration. Water development is now taking their children.

The measure, if approved, will leave the future of the Amazon rain forests of the country in the hands of oil companies, as well as any other area where they think there might be oil reserves.

The question is, if until now, with environmental impact studies, all the pollution and deforestation has been worrisome, what will happen if these crucial issues are left to the complete whim of the extracting companies, with only their statements of good intention?

Post [es] originally published in the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano.

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