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Gas project could endanger indigenous peoples in Peru

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 2nd, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A gas field dubbed Camisea in the Amazon has recently been approved by the Peruvian government for development. There has been a great hue and cry that this development will interrupt and disrupt the way of life for many indigenous tribes that have successfully separated themselves from the outside world since millennia.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Ministry of Energy and Mines approved the environmental impact assessment last month. Filed by the Argentinean-owned Pluspetrol for further exploration and future production in part of Block 88, the area overlaps local tribal land.

The Nahua, Nanti along with other groups in the reserve are threatened by contact with workers who could transmit diseases to which they have no resistance. Opponents of the expansion also say that the exploration and drilling could disrupt the nomadic groups' way of life, frightening away the animals on which they depend for food.

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"This approval was granted without having in place the two protective mechanisms required by law - a protection plan and an interagency committee responsible for protection," Vanessa Cueto of the Lima-based non-profit environmental group Law, Environment and Natural Resources. The group has vociferously criticized the approval process.

Addressing these concerns, the company has agreed to reduce the area targeted for seismic exploration, which involves cutting trails and setting off explosive charges, from 30 square miles to slightly more than one square mile. Exploratory wells in six locations are scheduled to be drilled in the reserve. For production, it will build a 6.5-mile pipeline to connect with its existing operations.

The Camisea gas field has a long - and contentious history. Royal Dutch Shell explored there in the 1980s. Diseases imported in by laborers wiped out about half the Nahua people in the area and pushed the survivors deeper into the forest.

Due to the gas field's proximity to Manu and other protected areas, indigenous rights and environmental groups peeled an eye on the project in the early 2000s. The Pluspetrol-led consortium, which includes the Peruvian subsidiaries of U.S.-based Hunt Oil Company, South Korea's SK Energy, Argentina's Tecpetrol, Spain's Repsol and Algeria-based Sonatrach then began construction.

The company agreed not to build roads in deference to activists. This could provide a route for outside settlers. In order to ferry all the equipment, supplies and workers by boat and helicopter, however, a model known as "offshore inland," will be used as it is based on the way offshore oil rigs are built.

Further, after Camisea officially went on line in 2004, operations were marred by a series of pipeline breaks. Some environmentalists have since praised the project for its minimal impact on the forest and wildlife. Scientists are studying a stretch of pipeline right-of-way where canopy trees have been left standing at intervals to provide a route for tree-dwelling animals to cross.

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