Peru to move ahead with Camisea gas expansion?

Peru seems poised to move forward with the controversial expansion of the Camisea gas project in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco region, following the Jan. 7 release of a new document by the Vice-Ministry for Interculturality. The document is an official response to consortium leader Pluspetrol's own response issued a week earlier to the Vice-Ministry's objections to the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project. The new response says the Vice-Ministry is lifting 34 of its 37 objections to the impact study. The remaining three points concern protection of the watershed of the Río Paquiría, which could impact where the consortium conducts seismic tests. But the statement apparently raised no concerns about isolated indigenous bands living in the concession area, which overlaps with the buffer zone of Manu National Park, hailed by UNSECO as having a level of biological diversity that "exceeds that of any other place on Earth." 

James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, visited the region last month, and warned: "The government and company should act with extreme caution and should not go ahead with the proposed expansion before first assuring conclusively that the [isolated peoples'] human rights are not at threat."

The concession operated by the Camisea consortium—which also includes Hunt Oil, Repsol and SK Corporation—is called Lot 88, and 74% of its territory overlaps with a reserve for "isolated peoples" established in 1990. Lot 88 accounted for almost 30% of Peru's total oil and gas production in 2012. (Servindi, Survival International, Jan. 14; The Guardian, Jan. 13; El Comercio, Jan. 8)

Ominously, the Vice-Ministry's statement comes just as press accounts in Peru have suggested that the government might bypass the country's new Prior Consultation Law in permitting Pluspetrol's development of its vast Lot 192 in Loreto region. A Jan. 13 article in Lima's conservative and business-friendly daily El Comercio entitled "Consulta en el lote 192 podría ser evitada" (Consultation in Lot 192 could be avoided) apparently only ran in the paper's print edition, but was noted in online commentary (unfavorably) by Oxfam's Politics of Poverty blog and (favorably) by Peru's National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy (SNMPE).

In his Peru visit, Anaya also met with indigenous leaders in Loreto, and issued a statement warning of the “devastating consequences” of extractive projects on indigenous peoples’ lands in the region. (Servindi, Dec. 13)