Indigenous Amazon communities fear that the contamination that they have suffered could repeat itself once a new contract to develop oil in the conflict-ridden Block 192 comes into force. A statement issued by the Ministry of Energy and Mines on 22 June has done nothing to reassure them.

The need for a new contract goes back to the withdrawal in 2015 of the Argentine firm Pluspetrol, following major issues of conflict with communities and the subsequent failure to find new bidders. The result was a temporary two-year service contract with the Canadian firm Pacific Stratus Energy. This contract has since been extended for a further year because oil spills leading to the suspension of activities.

The state-owned Petroperú is responsible for negotiating a new contract in conjunction with Perupetro, another state enterprise responsible for production. The lack of transparency in these negotiations is one of many causes for concern among the affected communities.

Concern centres on two sets of issues.

The first is that the communities consider that the new contract with Petroperú requires a fresh ‘prior consultation’. The government argues that the consultation over the previous temporary contract with Pacific Stratus Energy is still valid. The communities argue that the previous contract was for two years only and referred solely to services. The contract now under consideration is for 30 years and will cover all aspects, including production. It is therefore a different beast.

The second issue concerns remediation of past environmental pollution and consequent health damage extending back over 40 years. Metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead have been found in the soil as well as contaminants derived from petroleum. Three river basins are affected, threatening 20 communities. The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos states that this dimension of the problem is not being dealt with for the lack of an agreed ‘plan de abandono’ (an exit plan) which defines Pluspetrol’s responsibilities when its contract ended in 2015.

The communities presented a petition to the Ministry of Energy and Mines at the beginning of June. The response was that a fresh consultation was unnecessary. Last week’s ‘clarification’ from the ministry simply says the issue of whether there is a consultation or not will be evaluated only when the present temporary contract comes to an end. Not a helpful response to a serious situation.

This report draws on that provided by Vigilancia Amazónica