Number of procedures needed to build a warehouse in Colombia10
Total time required to build a warehouse in Colombia 73
Share of issues faced by oil companies due to disagreements with local communities and government5%
Environmental licensing in ColombiaApril 22, 2016
Juan Manuel Martínez, managing director of Colombia for Antea Group, talks to TOGY about the regulatory process for exploration and production operators, relations with local communities in a complex environment and environmental licences for offshore projects. Antea Group is taking part in the design project of the largest pipeline network in South America, spanning 1,059 kilometres.
A lot of upstream companies feel the process to gain environmental licences is detrimental to the development of the oil and gas industry in Colombia. What is your take on the situation?
The process of gaining environmental licences is necessary not only for the oil and gas industry, but for the sustainability of the country.
The time needed to gain environmental licences is certainly shorter than it once was. Although the authority could have a better evaluation process and be more objective in its appraisal of groups, it has definitely improved.
On the other hand, operators sometimes do not view this as a commitment, rather as a requirement. To get an environmental licence promptly, companies must have real strategies and demonstrate that they are committed to adhering to environmental standards.
If the Colombian authority sees it that way, everything is done in an easier manner. If companies view the licences only as a requirement, the process will take much longer.
Local communities have blocked oil and gas initiatives. However, since oil prices have dropped and activity has decreased, are they so prone to circumvent initiatives now?
In the Colombian Constitution, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have been granted certain prerogatives. Some farmers started searching for their roots in order to be declared indigenous people, and in that way, have access to those prerogatives.
This is a high-profile topic, and the oil industry is stigmatised, as is mining. Some people within certain communities have been opposed to projects, but not out of having a social or an environmental concern, but because they wanted to obtain other benefits.
In some cases, there are no real benefits for people living in and around the communities. On the other hand, as a result of the drop in oil prices, unemployment in oil and gas areas has risen. This is affecting people who are at the bottom of the social spectrum. As a result of rising unemployment rates, communities are becoming more open to business associated with the hydrocarbons industry.
What are some issues affecting companies looking for offshore environmental licences?
There are two main aspects to consider. First of all, the communities, and second, the sea itself. The fact that it is offshore doesn’t mean that there are no environmental impacts.
The big difference is that communities here do not have a big fishing vocation. The environmental concerns in offshore plays are more related to protecting our oceans, and the corals in the Caribbean, which are really important.
Sometimes an offshore operation will require removing large amounts of soil, and that may have a detrimental impact on the wildlife there. However, I think that in Colombia, gaining an environmental licence for an offshore project is easier than onshore because of the lack of a fishing culture and the impact of oil and gas projects is felt less.
What are some environmental challenges faced by the offshore hydrocarbons industry that could affect local communities?
The first thing that comes to mind are the issues related to water treatment and residues. Technologies improve on these issues day by day. There are better treatments covering a wide range of operations. There are issues related to water management, and produced water that comes with different minerals at higher temperatures. Each day, better treatments are developed to address these concerns.
Other issues involve in-basin management, biotic evaluation, concerns that can have far-reaching effects on Colombia’s local communities and indigenous populations.