Indigenous protesters seize 50 oil wells in Peruvian Amazon – chief

September 21, 2017 - 7:33 AM
Carlos Sandi, president of native communities in the Corrientes basin, speaks during a news conference in Lima, Peru. (Reuters)

LIMA — Villagers in the Peruvian Amazon have shut down at least 50 oil wells operated by Frontera Energy Corp. to protest talks over a new contract even as past pollution lingers, the leader of an indigenous federation said on Wednesday.

Some 600 members of native Achuar communities in the Corrientes River basin seized the wells on Monday along with an electric plant and oil tanks used by the Canadian company in Block 192, the country’s biggest oilfield, said Carlos Sandi, president of the Feconacor federation.

The latest protest in a region long plagued by complaints of oil pollution came after the center-right government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski declined to apply an indigenous rights law as it negotiates with Frontera.

The so-called prior consultation law, passed in 2011, requires the government to seek input from indigenous people before approving development plans that might affect them.

The growing indigenous anger threatens to disrupt Frontera’s plans to keep operating in Peru after its two-year contract expires.

Frontera has been negotiating a long-term contract for Block 192 with state energy regulator Perupetro. Tribal leaders had warned they would forcibly halt oil operations there unless their demands were taken into account through prior consultation.

Communities in Block 192 mainly want past oil pollution cleaned up and better access to education and healthcare, Sandi said.

Frontera, which has operated Block 192 for the past two years, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Protests could expand into other parts of Block 192 as Quechua villagers readied plans to seize 16 additional oil wells and an airport in the Pastaza River basin on Thursday, said Aurelio Chino, president of the indigenous federation Fediquep.

Peru’s Culture Ministry, charged with protecting indigenous rights, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Last week, the ministry rejected the communities’ request for prior consultation, but said the government might reconsider if new measures regarding Block 192 were implemented.

Block 192 in Peru’s Loreto region produced about 9,500 barrels of oil per day in August, according to official data.