Oil Report

INTERVIEW-Colombia to clarify mining laws as ruling, vote worry investors

BOGOTA, April 24 (Reuters) - Colombia’s government will seek congressional approval to harmonize national and local mining laws, the mines and energy minister said on Monday, as legal wrangling over environmental regulations and community opposition threaten investment.

Voters in central Tolima province last month backed a proposal to ban mining projects in their municipality, raising questions about the future of an AngloGold Ashanti Ltd gold exploration in the area. Canadian company Eco Oro Minerals Corp, meanwhile, is waging a legal battle against a court ruling that bars exploration in half its concession.

The Tolima vote was made possible by a Constitutional Court decision that overturned the national government’s sole authority to approve mining projects, allowing mayors and provincial governors to challenge exploration permits, to the delight of environmental groups and some politicians.

The move caused uncertainty among investors in Colombia, the world’s fifth-largest producer of coal with rich reserves of gold, ferronickel, silver, copper and emeralds. The government hopes the law would ease concerns by clarifying how land use disagreements between local and national authorities would be resolved, Mines and Energy minister German Arce said in an interview.

“It’s a very in-depth discussion that we’re having - how to harmonize the different legal mandates, because mayors have the power to organize land but the national government administers the subsoil,” Arce told Reuters.

“We have a project that we are discussing with Congress - it’s not formally presented yet - where we will define how to handle it,” he said.

“Giving a clear rule to investors will take away part of the uncertainty that’s been created by the activism of a few tribunals and courts and by the referendums,” Arce added.

AngloGold and Eco Oro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Oil and mining income that once accounted for nearly 10 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product suffered amid the global fall in crude prices, but recent improvements have made production viable again.

“We can produce at this price level. One would hope that now we’ve touched bottom we can start to see some recovery in the second half of this year and in 2018,” Arce said.

The oil production target for 2017 is 865,000 barrels per day.

The government has set a coal production target of 92 million tonnes and a gold output goal of 60 tonnes for this year, Arce said. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Helen Murphy and Andrew Hay)