Leaders of the autonomous territorial government of the Wampis (GTANW) last month filed an injunction to curtail the operations of Geopark, Petroperú’s Chilean associate, in their territory bordering Ecuador. They did so on the grounds that Geopark put the population at risk of infection from Covid-19. At the outbreak of the pandemic, the GTANW had quarantined the entire Wampis territory, effectively safeguarding the indigenous population of 85 communities whose number included the neighbouring Achuar.
With the quarantine still in place, Geopark regrouped its local workforce at their base on the Morona River, with all the associated risks of contagion experienced in other indigenous territories where quarantines were ignored by officials.
The Wampis accuse Geopark of defending itself by falsely claiming that its actions were in accordance with the government’s economic reactivation policy. This included the oil and gas sector and allowed companies in production to continue essential activities during the quarantine. But far from producing oil, Geopark’s operation has not even produced a viable environmental impact assessment (EIA). Nor has it received consent from the indigenous groups to operate on their territory.
The company’s position is that the concession does not affect indigenous territory. This is neither accurate nor helpful. Nor are the attempts it has made at favouring individual communities in order to undermine the representative indigenous organisation.
In 2014 Geopark and the state company Petroperú formed their consortium to explore and exploit Lot 64, with the Chilean partner taking a 75% stake. With reserves of an anticipated 160 million barrels of crude oil, the objective was to achieve 10,000 barrels a day in the first stage of exploitation by early 2021. The investment required was US$130 million.
As well as an unrealistic timescale, the project has struggled against precedent: Petroperú’s first partner in the area, Talisman of Canada, gave up in 2013 having failed to achieve the consent of the indigenous population.
A good year in 2019 fuelled Peru’s ambitions for the oil and gas sector over the next three years, but the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices has put not only growth but the whole industry itself in jeopardy. In April, Eduardo Guevara, the president of Petroperú, admitted that it would be hard to attract large investors in future, hence the need to fall back on partners in the vicinity like Chilean-based Geopark. His specific mention of Lot 64 as a priority was not welcome news for the Wampis who had previously travelled to Santiago to lobby Geopark shareholders and managers to withdraw from the project.
Indigenous resistance to the exploitation of petroleum in the territory of the Wampis is hardly surprising given the health and nutritional implications for the population and the likely destruction of their otherwise pristine environment. The Wampis and the Achuar’s determination to resist is informed by more than 40 years of drilling in nearby Lot 192, a byword for pollution in the Amazon, not least due to the crumbling pipeline that transports oil to the coast.