Groundbreaking EO-Organized Forum in Lima Sparks Dialogue for More Equitable Energy Development on Indigenous Lands in Peru

AIDESEP representative Sedequias Ancón watches a presentation on the first day of the forum.

Last week, EO co-hosted a first-of-its kind event in Lima in what we hope will prove to be the first step on a new path for responsible and inclusive energy development in the indigenous territories of Peru. When we first announced the forum “Indigenous Communities and Extractive Industries: Standards for Quality and Generation of Opportunities Under Equitable Conditions,” we noted that it comes at a crucial juncture in the history of oil and gas development in Peru. Just six years ago, indigenous communities’ opposition to oil and gas projects in their territories led to violent clashes with police that resulted in 73 deaths and 150 injuries. The tragedy underscored what remains true today: the processes for planning, approving, and implementing oil and gas development in the indigenous territories of Peru must change to better protect the environment and respect Indigenous Peoples.

Today, Peru is in the midst of a major expansion of oil and gas development. Although market conditions have slowed oil and gas development activity in recent months, government and industry stakeholders are poised to ramp up exploration and production as soon as prices rebound. The Peruvian national oil company Perupetro reports 67 areas or “blocks” currently under contract for exploration or production, totaling about 268,000 hectares (1,034 square miles) in land area. Many of these blocks overlap with areas designated to or owned by indigenous or local communities, which constitute 34 percent of all of Peru’s territory. Extensive oil and gas development in indigenous territories is inevitable. In Peru, indigenous communities have few legal options to determine whether or how oil and gas resources in their territories are produced. As in most Latin American nations (and many other nations around the world), the Peruvian State retains all rights to mineral resources and has an obligation to consult with but not secure approval from indigenous communities for extractive projects on their lands.

What options do Indigenous Peoples in Peru have to participate in development of oil and gas development in their territories? What can the industry and government do to develop oil and gas resources in a way that respects Indigenous Peoples and their cultures? How can theses groups work together to avoid a repetition of the deadly conflict in 2009? All of these questions were implicit at the forum in Lima. No one expected easy answers–the objective was to simply bring together stakeholders to initiate good-faith dialogue that could lead to better conditions for all stakeholders in the future.

Co-organized by Equitable Origin and our partners AIDESEP, a confederation of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon, the forum was facilitated by Rodrigo Botero, an expert in sustainable development and conflict resolution who leads the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) International Technical Assistance Program, which was a co-sponsor of the event. Generous support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) enabled DOI’s participation and was crucial in bringing presenters and attendees together. The forum’s agenda ranged from scientific and technical discussions about the impacts of oil and gas development to a presentation on the EO system to Q&A with a Vice-Minister of culture from the Peruvian government. Presenters represented NGOs, international development funds, government agencies, oil and gas industry groups, and AIDESEP member organizations. For the first time in the country’s history, the three key stakeholders in Peruvian oil and gas development–government, industry, and Indigenous Peoples–and international organizations came together to pursue a more responsible, equitable, and inclusive future.

EO Co-Founder Manuel Pallares during his presentation at the forum.

“This is an amazing moment in Peru’s history,” EO Co-Founder and driving force behind the event Manuel Pallares reflected. “For the first time, Indigenous Peoples are leading the discussion about how resources on their land should be developed, and how their communities will share in the benefits of that development.” Pallares presented on the second day of the forum, explaining how the EO100 Standard and EO system can be a valuable tool for all stakeholders to define best social and environmental practices and establish a framework for productive discussion about development projects. In November 2014, AIDESEP formally requested that the Peruvian government use the EO100 Standard as a model for social and environmental oversight of oil and gas operations.

Another historic characteristic of the forum was the interaction and cultural exchange between a representative of a Native American tribe with representatives from several South American indigenous communities. Joanie Horn, the Director of Oil, Gas and Minerals for the Crow Nation of Montana spoke about her tribe’s experience with development of natural gas and other resources on their reservation in collaboration with the U.S. government. It wasn’t easy, she explained, to overcome years of mistrust of a government that had treated her people so poorly, but years of cooperation had led the Crow to steady economic benefits from responsible development projects. The key to their success in working with government agencies, Horn said, was communication–communication of what was important to her community and what they expected from development projects and communication by companies of how their operations would affect people’s daily lives. This model for productive collaboration inspired many of the AIDESEP representatives at the forum who were accustomed to adversarial relationships with their government when it comes to development projects. “It shows all of us that there is another path to take–that we can work together, though it will take time,” declared AIDESEP regional leader Sedequias Ancón.

A long-time colleague and friend of Horn’s, Dennis Bodenchuk, also presented at the forum and described the working relationship between the government and Native American tribes in the U.S. from the government’s perspective. Bodenchuk is a DOI geologist and the Branch Chief of Geology for the Division of Energy and Mineral Development. Having worked with Horn and the Crow Nation, as well as many other U.S. tribes, Bodenchuk leads the collaborative efforts the Horn described for DOI, providing technical assistance and guidance on contracts, marketing, and other aspects of oil and gas (along with other resource) extraction on tribal lands. Bodenchuk echoed Horn’s description of relationships that required considerable building of trust to get off the ground, but had proven to be overwhelmingly positive and productive over his 12 years in his current role at DOI. In his presentation, Bodenchuck agreed with Horn’s emphasis on the value of transparency and communication among indigenous communities, governments, and development companies. “People want to feel that they’re being heard,” he explained. “When the government and companies listen to indigenous communities and integrate their perspective into energy projects, that’s when development can happen in a way that brings sustainable benefits with minimal conflict.”

AIDESEP President Henderson Rengifo at the forum.

For AIDESEP, the forum was an opportunity not just to learn about innovative alternatives to engagement with other stakeholders, be they government or industry, but also clearly state their interests in and outlook on oil and gas development on their lands. “We are not an obstacle to development in this country,” said AIDESEP President Henderson Rengifo in his opening remarks. “But we want development that respects our culture, our customs, and our rights.” This was an important clarification for the diverse audience to hear, as Indigenous Peoples in Peru are considered by many to be “anti-development.”

Former OPEC Secretary General and EO Advisor René G. Ortiz delivers the keynote address.

The forum’s keynote address came from René G. Ortiz, former Energy Minister of Ecuador and ex-Secretary General of OPEC. Ortiz brought a global perspective to the discussion of oil and gas development in Peru, explaining that revolutionary changes in the industry had shifted its main purpose from “extracting energy” to “manufacturing energy.” With these changes, he reasoned, more and better economic opportunities will come with oil and gas projects. Indigenous communities should take advantage of these opportunities, he opined, while industries should fulfill their responsibilities to be honest partners with those living near the resources they are extracting.

At the end of two days of presentation, discussion, and frank assessment of oil and gas development in the indigenous territories of Peru today, the event had achieved its goal of open and productive dialogue in pursuit benefits for the Indigenous People and environment of Peru. Participants exchanged innovative ideas, shared lessons learned, and began planning for the future. For EO, the forum marked the first of what we hope will be many groundbreaking meetings in Peru that move deliberately toward a more responsible and more equitable future of energy development.

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