Peru Congress to Examine Secretive Oil Industry Plans for Nanay River

The Peruvian congressional commission that recently investigated oil contamination in indigenous territories throughout Peru’s Northern Amazon Region of Loreto has just taken up the issue of oil development in the Nanay River watershed, opening the door for national debate.

The topic has been a political taboo ever since U.S. driller ConocoPhillips stealthily moved into the region two years ago despite Loreto Regional Government laws forbidding industrial production at the headwaters of the Nanay.

Despite the laws, the government has been accommodating ConocoPhillips at every turn since 2010. Insiders say a government gag order and sheepish local media have kept the deal off the public radar until early this year.

News that the Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, Environment and Ecology had adopted the Nanay as an issue spread quickly this week through watchdog groups and civic organizations in the port city of Iquitos, where tens of thousands of residents have mobilized in recent months to oppose ConocoPhillips’s plans to dig 48 exploratory wells near the Nanay’s headwaters.

The project also threatens natural protected areas of the Nanay, Chambira, and Pintuyacu rivers, which were once designated as off-limits to industrial development by the Regional Government of Loreto (GOREL).

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Residents of Iquitos and surrounding areas protest oil activity in the Nanay River Basin.

The Nanay River provides some 95 percent of the drinking water for the nearly half-million residents of Iquitos.

Civic groups in Iquitos, led by the Comité de Agua, now allied with the powerful Frente Patriotico de Loreto and the region’s main labor unions, have mounted a steady campaign since February to bring the ConocoPhillips project to a halt.

Massive marches in May and again twice in July brought residents from all sectors into Iquitos’ streets to stop oil operations on the Nanay.

The news of a congressional examination shows that the steady build of concern among the population of Iquitos and among indigenous groups in the interior has spread to the political heart of Peru, Lima, and to other parts of the country where communities are organizing and mobilizing against the destruction or modification of natural water sources and other ecological functions for mines, oil and gas production, and other extractive industries.

Observers and insiders alike warn of a new “Amazon Conga,” referring to mass and sometimes violent resistance to the Conga gold and copper mine project in the Andean region of Cajamarca which has several times forced first-year President Ollanta Humala to shuffle his government and take on a much more authoritarian stance.

The bright light of scrutiny brought by a possible congressional inquiry opens another front for Humala, who ran as a friend of the poor and indigenous and vowed to reroute the profits of extractive industries their way, yet has proven himself more a protégé of his predecessor, Alan Garcia, at every new crisis.

The mounting civil resistance to ConocoPhillips was recently registered by Peru’s official ombudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo, as a “potential” social-environmental conflict in a country increasingly torn by such crises.

News of the Nanay popping up on Congressional radar followed the announcement this week that the Comité de Agua in Iquitos is making legal moves to force the publication of the recently completed impact studies from ConocoPhillips’s two-year seismic testing in oil Lot 123 and Lot 129.

The results would show if and where ConocoPhillips officials believe they have found oil and would finally present the scope of the project to experts, activists and the public at large – something the Regional Government has been desperately but apparently illegally trying to avoid.

Congressional attention only complicates matters for Loreto’s Regional Government and favors those opposed to oil development of the Nanay.

Deborah Rivett, Thursday, 23 August 201

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