Colombian court backs rules on fracking, opens door for commercial projects

BOGOTA, July 7 (Reuters) - Colombia's highest administrative court on Thursday ruled against a lawsuit looking to nullify rules that would allow fracking projects in the Andean country, effectively overturning a moratorium on the commercial development of non-conventional oil and gas deposits, it said in a statement.

The Council of State in rejecting the suit said the rules allowing for the regulation of the practice are legal. The decision could pave the way for exploration and commercial production of non-conventional energy deposits, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas.

Fracking and the development of non-conventional energy sources have long been controversial in Colombia, with supporters and energy companies maintaining the practice is crucial for Colombia's economy and energy self-sufficiency, while detractors say it will damage the environment and bodies of water.

Regulations for development of non-conventional oil deposits were suspended in Colombia in late 2018 owing to the lawsuit, which looked to nullify them as laid down by Colombia's energy ministry.

"The rules ... do not create, authorize, endorse or allow fracking. They contain an update of the technical regulation that already existed for an activity that is not prohibited," the court said in a statement.

Anti-fracking activists decried the court's decision, saying it would endanger communities.

"This decision is dangerous in the context of the climate crisis and openly inconsistent with the international commitments made by Colombia," the Colombia Free From Fracking Alliance said in a statement.

U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Colombia's majority state-owned energy company Ecopetrol together are developing the Kale and Platero fracking pilot projects, both in the Puerto Wilches municipality in Santander province. There was no immediate reaction from either on the ruling.

Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro has vowed to block the practice once in office and also promised to put an end to the pilot projects.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler

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