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Local Communities in Colombia Protest Ecopetrol Well-Drilling

BOGOTA, Colombia

Local communities in Colombia’s east-central Meta province have protected an aquifer from Colombia’s state-controlled oil company, Ecopetrol, for six months.

Ecopetrol wants to develop an oil well -- the Lorito 1 -- in the vicinity of the aquifer, and residents of the Guamal, Humadea, Castilla la Nueva and Acacias areas have prevented Ecopetrol from gaining access to the area; they are concerned that the oil well would threaten their water supply and have a negative impact on the ecosystem and public health, Spanish international news agency EFE reported on August 23.

They cite heath issues suffered by the local communities of La Esmeralda and Caño Grande following oil extraction in the area.

La Esmeralda is "the most contaminated village of Acacias, Guamal, Humadea and Castilla," Ramiro Martinez, animal-health specialist at the environmental agency of Castilla told El Espectador.

He explained that 58 deep wells had contaminated water prior to the national environmental agency’s decision to allow exploration and exploitation of the CPO9 block, which covers the area now being blockaded.

The protesters have gained national significance, said Edgar Humberto Cruz, an environmental activist in Humadea. He explained: “Lorito 1 has become a symbol of the country’s problems because it’s the first time communities have adopted a stance of peaceful protest and blocked access to a drill rig for such a long time.”

Ecopetrol has denied that its actions are responsible for polluting the water supply in La Esmeralda and Caño Grande. Instead, the company’s regional manager, Edgar Paternina,claimed that algae that had developed in a wastewater capture area had discolored water there.

Complaints about water standards were brought to the local environmental agency, which has rejected Ecopetrol’s plans for the oil well.

Despite this, the National Environmental Licensing Authority has given permission to go ahead with Loreto 1. Exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources is a central tenet of the government’s development plans for the nation.