Colombia provisionally approves ExxonMobil fracking pilot project

FILE PHOTO: A sign is seen at the entrance of the Exxonmobil Port Allen Lubricants Plant in Port Allen, Louisiana, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Lee Celano

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia has provisionally approved U.S. oil company ExxonMobil Corp’s plan to develop a pilot project for hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in the country’s Valle Medio del Magdalena basin, the oil regulator said on Wednesday.

With the Platero investigative project ExxonMobil becomes the second company to begin a fracking pilot project in Colombia, after majority state-owned oil company Ecopetrol.

The project is expected to attract $53 million in investment, Colombia’s National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) said.

The contract for the project is expected to be signed from April 8, an ANH spokeswoman told Reuters.

“We are pleased with the agency’s evaluation,” ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler told Reuters in an email.

Development of non-conventional energy deposits, including fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane, is highly polarizing in Colombia and commercial development of such deposits is not permitted.

Colombia’s highest administrative court has upheld a moratorium on commercial exploitation of non-conventional energy deposits, but is holding hearings ahead of a final ruling on the issue.

However, the court gave the green light for fracking pilot projects, intended to gather scientific information so decisions about the future development of non-conventional energy deposits can be made.

While energy companies have long maintained that fracking and other non-conventional hydrocarbon sources are important for Colombia’s economy and energy self-sufficiency, environmental activists warn it will damage the environment and threaten communities.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Chang and Alistair Bell