Colombia green groups try again to ban fracking, hope fourth time's the charm

BOGOTA, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Colombian lawmakers, the environment minister and environmental campaigners on Wednesday proposed a bill to congress that would ban fracking, hoping it would pass on this, its fourth try, under recently inaugurated President Gustavo Petro.

Activists are optimistic that this time the bill will be successful, prohibiting development of nonconventional deposits which can include shale gas or coalbed methane. They touted support from Petro's government and more than 100 members of Congress.

Petro, who has managed to secure a congressional majority through alliances with leftist and centrist parties, opposes fracking and the expansion of Colombia's oil and gas industry, instead pushing for a transition to renewables.

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"Today we're beginning the walk towards fulfilling that political commitment," Environment Minister and former anti-fracking campaigner Susana Muhamad told journalists. "So that fracking and unconventional deposits do not begin in Colombia."

The bill would also look to minimize the environmental impact of Colombia's transition to renewable energy.

The bill would also end two proposed investigative pilot projects being developed in Puerto Wilches, in Santander province, by majority state-owned oil company Ecopetrol and U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N). Environmentalists in Puerto Wilches, epicenter of Colombia's debate over fracking, have reported threats on their lives for opposing the industry. read more

"I believe that in a few months Colombia will join the countries in the world that have prohibited ... fracking," Carlos Santiago, of the Colombia Free from Fracking Alliance, told Reuters.

"We have environmentalists here, on the inside, not just on the outside, bringing these debates about these transcendental issues," Senator and environmentalist Isabel Zuleta, a member of Petro's Historic Pact coalition, told Reuters on the sidelines of a press conference.

Advocates of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have long argued that developing non-conventional energy deposits is vital for Colombia's economy and energy self-sufficiency. Critics have long warned of environmental catastrophe. read more

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Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Gregorio

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