April 19, 2012 / 9:34 PM / 8 years ago

Peru okays more gas exploration in Amazon

* Gas from Block 88 reserved for domestic market

* Parts of area occupied by tribes in voluntary isolation

By Caroline Stauffer

LIMA, April 19 (Reuters) - Peru will allow the Camisea natural gas consortium to work in areas of the Amazon rain forest that were previously off-limits, a decision that an indigenous rights group criticized on Thursday.

A ruling from the ministry of energy and mines, the ministry of culture and the agency that supervises environmentally protected areas has given the consortium access to areas of the Kugapakori-Nahua Reserve that overlap with one of its petroleum concessions, known as Block 88.

It is part of a push by President Ollanta Humala to increase output of the fuel and make it cheaply available in a fast-growing economy for everything from cars to power plants to ovens.

But DAR, a Peruvian environmental group, said bringing Camisea workers into the area could endanger indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation.

“They have immune systems that are not as strong as ours, they need ample territory to find food and there is a cultural vulnerability when they come into contact with westerners,” said Jimpson Davila of DAR, which in Spanish stands for law, environment and natural resources.

The resolution for the $70 million expansion plan published on the ministry of energy and mines website said that, after several rounds of observations, the “objective of protecting groups in voluntary isolation had been met.”

The ruling was issued just two weeks after Humala’s government pressured the Camisea consortium to sell gas from Block 88 exclusively on the local market rather than exporting it abroad.

The Camisea consortium is led by Argentina’s Pluspetrol and also includes Repsol, Hunt Oil, SK, Algeria’s Sonatrach and Tecpetrol Argentina. Pluspetrol did not respond to requests for comment on its plans.

Humala last month announced plans to start construction on a $3 billion natural gas pipeline that will stretch from the Camisea fields in the jungle to the country’s southern Pacific coast. That pipeline will also feed a planned petrochemicals complex that would produce fertilizers and explosives and draw investments of about $13 billion.

“They couldn’t bring gas to the south without access to this zone, now that they have access to the reserves they can build the pipeline,” said Davila.

The ruling has exposed tensions between Humala’s campaign pledges to lift energy output while at the same time protecting indigenous rights and defusing social conflicts over natural resources. More than 200 rural towns have organized to stop mining or oil projects worth $50 billion that they fear will cause pollution, hurt water supplies or take away ancestral lands. (Reporting By Caroline Stauffer; editing by Jim Marshall)

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