05 August 2010

Gas, Texas, and Protests in Quillabamba

I have just returned from Quillabamba, the center of the general strike that has blocked all roads to Machu Picchu and seen 17 protesters detained. Central to the protest: foreign gas exploitation in the Camisea gas fields, the exploration of which has been done in large part by Texas-based Hunt Oil Company. The company's $3.8 billion Peru LNG plant, meant to manufacture gas extracted from the Camisea fields, is the largest of its kind in South America.

The company has been a central source of controversy in its leveraging of political and economic power to acquire natural gas concessions in the indigenous reserves of the Peruvian Amazon. With a poor history of environmental protection and social responsibility, Hunt Oil was most recently criticized after gaining rights to explore Block 76, a 3.7 million acre tract overlapping the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve.

Company President Ray Hunt, a hefty contributor to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush and a board member of Haliburton, has continued to tow the line of economic development in the Peruvian Amazon, making frequent visits to the Peruvian legislature throughout contract negotiations. In the year 2000, during the last stand of dictator Alberto Fujimori, Hunt Oil was awarded the exclusive rights for 40 years to develop the Camisea gas fields. With proven reserves of 8.7 trillion cubic feet, it was called the "most ambitious energy project in Peruvian history" at the time of launching.

An 'indefinite strike' has been declared by the ComisiĆ³n de la Lucha. Hunt Oil Co. has been largely absent since claims of environ-mental degradation and lacking social responsibility began to surface with the construction of the project's first pipeline in 2003. The protests in Quillabamba have been no exception. Yesterday, President Alan Garcia made a plea for peace after declaring a state of emergency after protesters forcefully entered a Camisea gas station on Friday. The Peruvian government has sent military forces as protesters continue to block all main arteries leaving the city.