Peru indigenous group takes over Maple Energy wells

LIMA, Sept 11 (Reuters) - An indigenous group in Peru’s Amazon has taken over and stopped production at nine oil wells that belong to Maple Energy, a tribal leader and the company said on Tuesday.

Maple Energy , a small energy producer headquartered in Peru, said the action has slowed its production of low sulphur crude oil from the Maquia oil field near the Ucayali River in Loreto, Peru’s northernmost region.

The conflict, one of more than 200 in Peru over natural resources, comes as President Ollanta Humala implements a new law in the same jungle region that is designed to prevent disputes by giving indigenous communities more say over extractive activities on their land.

Lizardo Cauper, a leader of the Shipibo indigenous people in the Canaan de Cachiyacu community, said some 400 locals peacefully occupied nine company wells on their ancestral land on September 2. He said they will continue to hold them until the government forces Maple Energy to clean up a series of oil spills, the last of which happened on July 23.

Maple Energy did not provide further details or comment on Cauper’s claims.

Cauper said the company has paid the community $9,000 per year since negotiations in 2005 and given them computers with access to the Internet.

“But none of that means anything if we don’t have clean water, a clean environment and our health,” he said by phone, adding that many members of his community have fallen sick from the company’s pollution.

The Loreto region has been in the spotlight as Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal conducts the first government-led “consultation” with indigenous communities there. The government plans to auction off rights to their lands and the country’s largest oil block later this year.

The so-called prior consultation law, passed last year, requires the government to try to reach an agreement with communities before natural resource projects can go forward.

Cauper said his community was never consulted about Maple Energy’s oil drilling on their territory, which began in 1994. He said no one has addressed persistent contamination there since then.

“If the laws in place now that should force companies to clean up aren’t working, why should the consultation law?” he said.

The prior consultation law was the first of a series of reforms the Humala administration has proposed to prevent conflicts over natural resources that often turn deadly and threaten some $50 billion in investments over the next decade.

The government is now seeking to double the maximum penalties for polluting companies and is moving approval of environmental impact studies from the mining to the environment ministry.