Argentina has approved a proposal from Chinese Petrol Company JHP and state-owned Jujuy Mining and Energy (JEMSE) to carry out an environmental impact study on an oil-drilling project in Calilegua National Park. The park, located in the northern province of Jujuy, is one of the most bio-diverse environments in Argentina.
Argentina has approved a proposal from Chinese Petrol Company JHP and state-owned Jujuy Mining and Energy (JEMSE) to carry out an environmental impact study on an oil-drilling project in Calilegua National Park.
The park, located in the northern province of Jujuy, is one of the most bio-diverse environments in Argentina. It was created in 1979 to preserve 76,306 hectares of unique mountain cloud forest also known as Yungus, and for its environmental importance as a corridor linking the tropical yungus to the low land Chaco. Traditionally indigenous territory – today a number of Kolla and Guarani communities continue to live on the borders of the park.
However, when the area was declared a National Park and protected area a major issue was left unresolved. Oil wells existed in the park, dating back to 1969. Despite the fact that both the National Parks Act of Argentina and the Hydrocarbon Legislation explicitly prohibit oil extraction in protected areas, this was conveniently ignored. No policies were put in place regarding the closure and cessation of all oil extraction activities. In 1992, a small number of oil wells that had been abandoned in the 1970s were reopened and oil extraction began once again with little resistance from the executives of Argentina National Park Authority (PNA).
Nevertheless, since then a group of park wardens have been monitoring the impact of the oil extraction activities. They have documented evidence of high levels of pollution from chemicals such as chromium, chloride, cadmium and lead in two local streams that run through the park and represent the main water supply for rural communities in Yuyo and Rio San Francisco. There is also evidence of contamination of subterranean water – the main water supply for an indigenous community called Caimancito.
Guillermo Nicolossi, a representative of this group, says, “Since 1997 we been denouncing the activities of the oil companies and the co-existence of two totally incompatible activities– oil extraction at the expense of the conservation of a protected area. In February this year we reported high levels of lead, mercury and chrome in the Sauzalito steam to the Federal Prosecutors office in Jujuy but to date have not received a reply.”
The announcement of the possible expansion of this oil enterprise through a new concession to Chinese Oil Company JHP and JEMSE came as a shock to this group who have decided it is time for the issue to finally be resolved.
“We learned that in February 2014 the President of the National Parks gave JHP authorization to carry out an environmental impact assessment for the expansion of oil activities in the park. The study requested is for a period of three years despite the fact that the concession would be for 24 years,” says Nicolossi. “The role of National Parks in Argentina is to ensure the conservation of protected areas. The authorization it has given to JHP is illegal.”
The proposed location for the expansion and proposed creation of between 3 and 5 new oil wells would involve residue being injected into a stream which is the main water source for a number of indigenous communities located on the border of the park who, along with the wardens, are beginning to organize and build resistance to the project.
“For over a century we have seen our ancestral territories turned into sugar cane estates and our indigenous brothers and sisters used as cheap labor for them,” says Matilde Lucio, a leader of one of the affected communities – El Bananal. “The governor of Jujuy states that this new contract with a Chinese oil company will bring economic benefits to the region, creating jobs and opportunities for people to learn new skills. We remind the government that for decades indigenous people have provided cheap labor to the sugar cane estates. This has not brought us any economic growth.”
Nicolassi adds, “The high costs involved with cleaning up the environmental mess are not taken into account by the government or the companies who are only interested in making a fast profit. The people of Jujuy do not benefit in any way from oil extraction – not even through jobs or cheap gas – and yet they are the ones who will end up paying to clean up the mess.”
Given that little public information has been made available regarding the proposed expansion, indigenous leaders, park wardens in partnership with local NGO the Pastoral Ministry for Indigenous Peoples (ENDEPA)and a South American Chaco Small Projects Fund, are organizing meetings with affected communities so that they are aware of the project and the possible affect it will have on their water supply in particular. A general assembly of all communities will be held later this month in which they will decide on a course of action – including possible legal action based on Argentine environmental law, as well as international law including ILO Convention 169 which requires indigenous people be consulted on issues that affect them.
“We will not allow a Chinese oil company poison our water supply or steal more of our land. We will not allow our brothers and sister be enslaved again,” says Lucio. “Today we have international legislation to defend our right to land and we intend to use it.”
Sign a petition against oil exploitation in Calilegua National Park here:
For more information in Spanish read here: http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2014/05/07/campana-por-el-cese-de-la-explotacion-petrolera-en-el-parque-nacional-calilegua/
Fionuala Cregan is based in Argentina and currently works for the Regional Latin America Office of Church World Service.