Peruvians oppose Talisman exploration Indigenous groups in conflict with Calgary corporation

Talisman Energy is facing continuing opposition to its oil exploration and testing in a remote area of Peru. Regional Indigenous foundations in the Northern Peruvian Amazon had set an ultimatum for Talisman, announcing that the Alberta-based company was to have abandoned its oil explorations by November 15 or face "other measures." As yet, no actions have been taken.

Talisman has not abandoned its plans for oil exploration in the area, and the company is claiming that it has gathered all the necessary consent. According to talisman spokesperson Barry Nelson, the company has "the consent and the enthusiastic support of the people who live there," and it went through the required steps to gather support for the project.

"We spent a great deal of time talking to people in these communities," says Nelson. "We have their consent, and it's not just one or two people, we needed a two-thirds majority, and we got it in every case."

Andrew Miller, environmental and human rights campaigner for Amazon Watch, says the environmental group has been working to gather information on Talisman's process to discover if it has met the standards of free, prior and informed consent.

"'Trust us' is not a credible posture for an oil company in a region where oil continues to be highly conflictive," says Miller.

The region of interest, referred to as Block 64, is located in an area of extreme biodiversity that includes fragile rainforest and wetland ecosystems. Talisman Energy has gained four oil concessions in the Peruvian Amazon that span 1.7 million hectares of tropical rainforest. These areas include the ecologically significant regions of the Morona and Pastaza river basins, which were listed under the United Nations Ramsar Convention as one of the world's most important wetland areas.

"The situation remains tense. Though the communities haven't yet mobilized against Talisman, a strong opposition remains in many of the communities," says Miller. "As Talisman presses forward with their plans to renew oil exploration operations in Block 64, they continue to run the risk of sparking conflict."

Miller says that although the communities do not have a history of violence against the companies, the concern of Amazon Watch is the possibility of violence stemming from Peruvian security forces stationed in the region.

"Our concern would be if the communities do mobilize, for example, blockading the rivers so Talisman boats can't pass, that the military might use heavy-handed tactics to break up the demonstrations," he says.

The land is located above oil deposits, and it began facing development under various oil companies in the early '70s. U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), Argentina's Pluspetrol and Arco have all attempted to carry out operations in Block 64, but cancelled the projects after facing conflict with the communities located here.

Long-term effects of pollution from previous oil projects are still evident in the region. According to Amazon Watch, approximately nine billion barrels of water, which contained toxic substances such as barium, boron and arsenic, were dumped by Oxy over a period of 30 years. Locals have tested positive for high levels of lead in their blood and claim to have suffered from unexplained diseases, tumors, skin ailments and miscarriages.

Nelson, however, reassures that Talisman can work in the area without causing environmental harm. "We understand that people want to protect the rainforest, we want to, too," says Nelson. "This isn't the 1950s. We can work in tricky areas without causing damage. There's new drilling methods that let you do it carefully. You can produce the oil and protect the environment at the same time."

Leaders of the Indigenous Achuar people travelled to Calgary in April of 2008 and expressed their concerns directly to the company. They were told the company would not develop if it was contrary to their people's wishes.

"This issue is not just a flash in the pan and will continue as long as oil companies, Talisman or otherwise, continue to try to enter this part of Peru," says Miller.

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