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Oil giant takes aim at indigenous groups in Peru

Indigenous Peoples
Urubamba river

The beauty of the Urubamba River and its surroundings are threatened by Repsol's controversial energy project. Phil Whitehouse under a Creative Commons Licence

The lower Urubamba River in southern Peru is a long way from the boardrooms and corridors of power in European capitals. Likewise, the struggles of indigenous groups faced with the expansion of oil and gas exploration in this remote corner of the Amazon is worlds away from climate policy debates taking place in Madrid and Brussels.

The region, designated one of 25 global ‘hotspots’ for conservation due to its biological richness, is now the location of the Camisea Gas Project – the largest and most controversial energy project in Peru, being spearheaded by Spanish oil and gas giant Repsol.  

Camisea involves the extraction of natural gas in the middle of the rainforest by means of dozens of drilling platforms, hundreds of kilometres of gas pipelines, recovery plants, ports, helipads, access roads and the installation of power lines.  

All of these gas concession lots overlap with the territories of local indigenous communities, who are seeing their natural environment and social fabric permanently altered. Continuous low-level pollution of water sources, a drop-off in fish stocks, together with deforestation and fragmentation of ecosystems, are all negatively affecting the ability of local populations to fish and hunt, thereby eroding their food sovereignty and autonomy.

According to Jackeline Binari from the Machiguenga Council of the Urubamba River, Camisea has brought with it severe changes in lifestyle ‘with impacts on diet and nutrition – with increased childhood malnutrition, increased domestic violence and alcohol consumption’.

One of the most potentially devastating aspects of the Camisea project is on vulnerable indigenous groups still living in isolation and various stages of initial contact. In the 1980s, oil company Shell first began to move into the Camisea area, followed by groups of loggers. The resulting contact with members of the Nahua indigenous group led to the deaths of half of the Nahua people. The Nahua had no previous exposure to the diseases brought into the area by these outsiders and hence no immunity. As a result, the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti Territorial Reserve (RTKNN) was set up in 1990 to protect the Nahuas, Nantis and Machiguengas indigenous groups in the area.

Despite this history, Repsol is now taking direct aim at these communities. Together with the Camisea consortium, they revealed plans in 2013 to expand operations further into the RTKNN reserve in the face of concern and outrage by indigenous organizations, human rights groups and government monitors.

While these remote Amazonian communities struggle to have their voices heard in their own national capital, let alone in international forums, the same can’t be said for Repsol.

Repsol is a member of the Peruvian Hydrocarbons Society, a powerful industry lobby group based in Lima. In early 2014 the society published its White Book of Hydrocarbons, laying out a wish list of changes to Peru’s national environmental laws in favour of the oil and gas industry.

According to Jose? de Echave, former second in command at Peru’s Ministry of Environment before he resigned in protest at measures to undermine and weaken the environment ministry in 2011, ‘the Peruvian Hydrocarbons Society was actively lobbying and proposing reforms in Peru, many of which were included in the “Paquetazo”[package of measures].’ The sweeping changes to environmental laws introduced under the government’s paquetazo of legislation in 2014 undermine indigenous territorial rights and remove other ‘obstructions’ to maximum exploitation by extractive industries.

In much the same way as Repsol has managed to push its agenda at the national level in Peru, giving it vital political cover for its abuses on the ground in places like Urubamba, privileged access secured through a complex web of industry lobby groups has allowed them to block effective climate action at European and international level.

While the Spanish oil and gas giant invests in future fossil-fuel reserves at the highest rate in the industry, is busy beefing up refinery capacity in Spain to import tar sands oil into Europe and begins drilling for oil in a UNESCO heritage site off the Canary Islands, it has assembled a veritable army of industry lobby groups and trade associations to work around the clock to ensure that policies at international level don’t affect its interests.

In 2013 alone Repsol spent $390,000 and $100,000 on direct lobbying in Brussels and Washington respectively. It also enlisted the services of a contingent of other industry lobbyists, including organizations such as FuelsEurope, the Oil and Gas Producers Association (OGP Europe) and the European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) – all helping Repsol to ensure that its message that fossil fuels are part of the future gets heard by decision-makers.

A blatant example of this privileged access is the European Energy Forum (EEF), where oil and gas firms give members of the European Parliament an opportunity ‘to gain a better understanding of energy and energy-related issues’. Repsol’s $8,000 yearly membership fee of EEF bought it invitations to several high-level dinner debates, where it questioned EU officials on ‘how realistic’ the EU’s ‘incoherent’ 2030 climate and energy targets were.

At the international level, Repsol pays $5,800 per year to the International Gas Union (IGU) for similar privileged access. IGU includes among its ‘wise persons’ Kandeh Yumkella, the UN Under-Secretary General and CEO of the UN’s corporate and fossil fuel-friendly Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative.

While Repsol carries on trashing both local communities (like those in Urubamba) and the climate as they go, this kind of high-level access and intense PR work allows them to continue flaunting their image as a ‘global company looking out for the well-being of all people’ while they slow down the urgent political action we need on climate. 

Central to this web of national and international political power and influence is Antonio Brufau himself. Repsol’s CEO is a member of the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). As the EU 2030 climate package was being debated among heads of state, an ERT delegation was invited for a private dinner with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission, where they emphasized that ‘any climate or energy policy must be adapted’ to protect industrial growth.

The EU responded with a largely unambitious and non-binding package of climate and energy targets.

Repsol is also a regular sponsor of the International Emissions Trading Association’s (IETA) Carbon Expo. This gives the oil and gas giant top speaking slots alongside high-level figures such as the chief of the UN Convention for Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, and EU Climate and Energy chief Miguel Canete, where they promote carbon markets around the world despite their failure in Europe.

If they go unchallenged, this combination of trade and lobby group pressure, access and influence at the highest levels in EU and UN spaces, and close ties to the Spanish government, will allow Repsol to continue expanding into ever more remote and vulnerable regions of the planet.

If we are to begin to take on the fossil fuel industry and slow down the expansion of extractives more broadly, a key task is to highlight and condemn the role of corporations from these industries in our policy-making spaces at all levels. By calling out their connections with our policymakers and showing how this is blocking real progress on climate change, we can continue to delegitimize their seat at the table. If we can do this while highlighting their human rights impacts on the ground on communities like those caught up in the Camisea project, we can also broaden the possibilities for international solidarity.

Thomas Mc Donagh is a co-author of the report ‘Corporate Conquistadors: The Many Ways Multinationals Both Drive and Profit from Climate Destruction’.

Twitter handle: @TmcDIrl

This article is taken from the report ‘Corporate Conquistadors: The Many Ways Multinationals Both Drive and Profit from Climate Destruction’, published December 2014 by the Democracy Center, Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute.

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