Oil Exploration Pilot Projects A Go in Colombia


The Colombian State Council has clarified its position on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), stating that while fracking is provisionally suspended until further notice, investigative pilot programs for its viability on national soil may still be developed as of September 17th, 2019. 

The clarification comes after the nation’s top administrative court had, a week earlier, upheld the decision made in November 2018 that fracking was forbidden until further notice. By review of a Commission of Experts’ briefing and recommendations, the court holds that thorough evaluations, such as pilot programs, are given the go-ahead signal, and their analysis will be crucial in the making of a final decision on this matter. 

By allowing pilot programs, the court opens the door for leading oil producer Ecopetrol to begin a proposed investigation into the use of fracking in the shale-rich Magdalena Valley. The project, which includes a $500 million dollar investment by Ecopetrol, could highlight the possible benefits and downsides that hydraulic fracturing could pose for oil exploration, the environment, and the economy.  

“The thorough study of the YNC [unconventional deposits] will continue, and Ecopetrol must continue working,” stated Felipe Bayón, President of Ecopetrol. He maintains that the use of fracking is fundamental to increasing the oil reserves and the national economy. He also added that there is “great potential in Colombia.” 

Ecopetrol is not the only protagonist pushing for fracking in the Colombia. Members of Ivan Duque’s government, which seeks to improve a struggling Colombian economy greatly dependent on its top export, crude oil, defend that an increase in reserves would provide greater economic stability. As revealed by the Treasury Department in the 2019 Fiscal Framework, fracking would supply the country with an additional $14 billion dollars a year. 

Colombian leaders are also fearful that the country’s rapidly depleting resources will leave the economy at risk. This would lead to citizens becoming increasingly vulnerable to the global market. The current Secretary of the Treasury, Alberto Carrasquilla Barrera, proclaimed, “The exhaustion of resources would implicate important risks for the country’s macroeconomic stability, for which it is necessary to explore and identify short and long-term methods to increase resources.”

He lists fracking as one of these methods, revealing that the resource potential by unconventional deposits increases to 7,500 barrels of crude. This leads to an additional 24 years of reserves, and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas which would be a considerable increase from the approximate 5 years of reserves that the country presently holds, ultimately providing the country with the self-sufficiency necessary for energy security.

However, despite its benefits, such unconventional oil exploitation methods for commercial purposes have been condemned due to their impact on human health caused by noxious gases released.  The effects on the environment--most prominently seen in the radioactive contamination of water sources--and the alteration of tectonic plates, which could generate earthquakes are additional harms brought about by unconventional oil exploitation.

Despite maintaining the suspension of hydraulic fracturing, the court’s decision to approve controlled experimental projects with thorough oversight, community participation, verification, and independent monitoring, could result in future authorization. 

The Expert Commission’s recommendation states, “Once the PPII [experimental projects] have been realized, the results of the integral investigation must be analyzed, and observing precautionary methods, it must be decided if the country is ready to move forward with commercial production. The project [of hydraulic fracturing for commercial use] will move forward, if and only if, the integral cost-benefit evaluation generates a positive balance, and as long as the risks are manageable.”