Colombia higher court rules fracking pilot projects can go ahead

A man rides a canoe on the Magdalena River in Puerto Wilches
A man rides a canoe on the Magdalena River in Puerto Wilches, Colombia March 8, 2022. Picture taken March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA, June 2 (Reuters) - Investigative fracking operations in Colombia can go ahead after a court in the Andean country's Santander province on Thursday reversed a lower court's decision to block two pilot projects.

Commercial development of non-conventional energy deposits - such as by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for hydrocarbons - is not currently permitted in Colombia, but the country's highest administrative court has allowed pilot projects to go ahead while it considers the issue.

Majority state-owned Colombian oil company Ecopetrol (ECO.CN) and U.S. partner Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) are undertaking both pilot projects, with Ecopetrol serving as operator.

In late April, a judge in the city of Barrancabermeja suspended an environmental license for the Kale pilot project, ruling that a local Afro-Colombian group, the Afrowilches, had not been properly consulted. read more

That ruling ordered that a prior consultation for Afrowilches for both the Kale and Platero project areas be carried out. Colombia's National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA) has authorized the Kale project but not yet the Platero project.

"The ruling dated April 21, 2022 by the First Administrative Court of Barrancabermeja is hereby revoked and the request for legal protection is ruled inadmissible," the higher Administrative Court of Santander said in a statement.

The projects are located in the municipality of Puerto Wilches.

Ecopetrol was not immediately available to comment on the ruling.

The Colombia Free from Fracking Alliance said it regretted the latest decision and would appeal to a higher court.

"We'll request a review of the court's decision by the Constitutional Court, considering that (the decision) disregards the precedent of prior consultation and violates the rights of the Afro-Colombian communities of Puerto Wilches," the group said.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Bradley Perrett

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