Energy & Mining

A New Uprising

Community Relations

Colombia's communities have raised their voices against national and international investors' exploitation of local natural resources.

According to Procolombia, over 30% of the country’s explored wells are successful, while more than 50% of the total territory is still unexplored. Despite oil price’s rebound, Colombia has to face continuous challenges. These take shape of referendums, known in Colombia as public consultations involving local communities, which nowadays have taken the front seat on the discussion over the country’s energy future.

Constitution-supported local referendums have become a major weapon against the opening or continuation of oil exploration projects. According to the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, the lack of a statute requiring consultation had not stopped more than 5,000 consultations between 2016 and 2017, among which 3,000 involved indigenous populations.
Moreover, more than 40 such votes are planned to take place in the coming months in Colombia. Events such as the block of the 190,000-acre field in Arbeláez, which cost Canacol Energy USD7.5 million in 2014, keeps causing alarm among local and international companies over their potential investments in the otherwise promising sector.
Community referendums have become a major obstacle for mining companies, too. For example, the closure of the South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti’s gold mine in western Colombia caused the loss of USD360 million in investment after local residents voted to ban mining.
According to the Ministry of Mines, there are currently 44 municipalities that are willing to undertake public consultations to prevent the exploitation of hydrocarbons or minerals.
Furthermore, these communities have also managed to attract public consensus at multiple levels, not just the grassroots level. The inhabitants of Giron, a municipality in the Santander Department, were joined by public authorities including the mayor to march against the risks of contamination and the exploitation of gold in protected areas.
The initiative was strongly supported by environmentalists, who had and continue to have great involvement in the organization of such events all around the country. Indeed, Colombia’s energy sector is one the most important drivers of the economy and certainly a pillar for the future economic growth of the country. Therefore, Colombia will need a new way of communication between the government, investors, and local communities.