Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oil company Perenco endangering 'uncontacted' indigenous people, says Peru

April 25, 2012
Source: Mongabay

A Perenco boat in the Amazon. Photo courtesy of David Hill

The company hoping to exploit the oil deposits slated to transform Peru’s economy has been declared to be endangering the lives of indigenous people living in "voluntary isolation" by the country’s indigenous affairs department (INDEPA).

Perenco, an Anglo-French company with headquarters in London and Paris, is currently seeking approval from Peru’s Energy Ministry (MEM) to develop its operations in the Loreto region in the north of the country.

MEM has already blocked Perenco once this year by refusing to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the next stage of its operations. One of the reasons given was the company's failure to obtain INDEPA’s "technical opinion" on its EIA.

That opinion, expressed in a seven page report, was forthcoming on 20 February and sent by MEM to Benoit de la Fouchardiere, Perenco’s general manager in Peru, on 5 March.

Perenco fails to acknowledge "the total superimposition of Lot 67A and Lot 67B by a proposal to create a reserve for indigenous people who live in voluntary isolation," INDEPA says.

"This is concerning, given that the exclusion of this proposed reserve doesn’t allow for the identification of the possible negative social and environmental impacts of the project on the isolated people who live there."

INDEPA is especially critical of Perenco’s Anthropological Contingency Plan, which it says denies the existence of the "isolated" people and thereby increases their vulnerability if contact with them is made.

"No measures to prevent the transmission of illnesses or epidemics are considered, as they should be according to regulations and technical health guides about indigenous people in isolation or initial contact," it says.

INDEPA’s report is potentially embarrassing for Perenco because it has repeatedly claimed there are no "voluntarily isolated," or "uncontacted," people in the region where it is operating. Its Latin American regional manager once compared them to the UK’s Loch Ness monster, declaring, "Much talk but never any evidence."

In defending its claims about the "isolated" people, Perenco usually cites a report by an Ecuadorian environmental consultancy, Daimi, which Perenco paid for and concluded no evidence of them could be found. In its February statement, INDEPA explicitly distances itself from that report.

"Regarding the reference made to the participation of INDEPA in the 'Inter-Disciplinary Anthropological Investigation into Indigenous People in Voluntary Isolation,' it needs to be pointed out that, although one representative of this institution did go into the field with Daimi, this does not mean that INDEPA endorses the conclusions of that investigation," it says.

INDEPA’s report is also potentially embarrassing for other sectors within Peru’s government who want operations in Lot 67 to continue as smoothly as possible. Peruvian officials have expressed hopes that the oil deposits, estimated by Perenco to be 300 million barrels, will transform Peru from being a net importer of oil to an exporter.

When the oil was declared commercially-viable in December 2006, the then president Alan Garcia visited the site and called it an "historic event for our nation." In 2009 Garcia’s government declared operations in Lot 67 a "national necessity."

Perenco refused to comment on INDEPA’s report, which recommends the company should re-write its Anthropological Contingency Plan.

"It's difficult to imagine what could be more of a PR catastrophe for Perenco, except for one of their employees making contact with the 'uncontacted' people and starting some kind of epidemic," says Rebecca Spooner from Survival International.

INDEPA’s report is something of a U-U-turn since it recognized the existence of the isolated people in the Lot 67 region in 2007, changed its mind in a report in 2009, before now appearing to change its mind again.

A second INDEPA report was also sent to Perenco by MEM on 5 March. This considered the company’s EIA from a specifically environmental angle, given the "interdependence between biodiversity and the isolated indigenous people living in the area of the proposed reserve."

Earlier this month an American NGO, E-Tech International, published a report on oil industry best practices in the Amazon that was highly critical of Perenco’s operations in Lot 67.

"Perenco is following a 1970s-era project design format that is totally inappropriate for the Peruvian Amazon," says E-Tech’s Bill Powers, author of the report. "The company is not proposing to use current technology to reduce impact."

Perenco’s operations in Lot 67 have been opposed by indigenous organizations in Peru, such as AIDESEP and ORPIO, for years. It was AIDESEP that proposed the reserve that INDEPA now says Perenco is ignoring.

In total, there are an estimated fifteen indigenous groups living in "voluntary isolation" in Peru, the majority in the south-east of the country.

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