A court decision in the South American nation of Colombia last year gave communities the right to vote on whether mining or oil development should happen in their environs. So far, every Colombian community to do so this year turned such development down.
More than 40 more such votes are planned, Bloomberg reports, and they “threaten to paralyze [mineral] exploration across the Andean nation.”
Although Colombia’s constitution has long granted citizens the right to hold community plebiscites, the national mining code previously barred local authorities from stopping oil or mineral developments. Last year, however, the country’s Constitutional Court “struck down the provision as unconstitutional,” writes Bloomberg, “helping to trigger the wave of popular consultations.”
Plebiscites can be forced by citizens who collect enough signatures of support, and the court ruled that their outcomes are binding. Already, a Canadian company has found an anticipated project blocked.
Bloomberg reports that Toronto-listed Canacol Energy Ltd. paid US$7.5 million in 2014 for rights to explore for oil on a 190,000-acre site, 50 kilometres southwest of Bogotá. After a July 9 vote in the community of Arbeláez, however, the oil junior “can’t carry out seismic testing or drill exploratory wells to ascertain how much crude may be underground,” the news agency notes.
While the development is an advance for local democracy, Bloomberg says it poses a threat to Colombia’s national accounts. “With oil production dropping and untapped reserves down to less than six years of output,” notes reporter Matthew Bristow, “the nation urgently needs new discoveries if it wishes to remain an energy exporter. (Colombia’s neighbours, Ecuador and Venezuela, have approximately 40 and 340 years of reserves, respectively.)”
Canadians currently lack the right to a community veto over extractive industry development. But Dogwood Initiative’s Kai Nagata recently painted a vivid picture of how constituents in that province can use available political levers to punish the Canadian federal government if it imposes a planned expansion of a U.S.-owned pipeline through communities that oppose it.