Talisman CEO gives written commitment to respect indigenous community wishes
Calgary, Alberta - Talisman today gave a clear written undertaking to indigenous leaders from the Peruvian Amazon that the oil company would not attempt to operate on their land without community consent.
In a letter handed to the leaders, Talisman CEO and President John Manzoni, wrote: " Talisman will not work in Peru in areas in which it does not have an agreement with the community. We consider an agreement allowing Talisman to work would require a General Assembly with a positive vote of no less than two thirds of all the members of the community."
The letter came after a delegation representing the indigenous Achuar people of the Peruvian Amazon attended Talisman's annual general meeting in Calgary, Alberta, today, and following a meeting with Mr. Manzoni yesterday. The Peruvians had come to tell Talisman management and shareholders that they oppose drilling on their tropical rainforest homelands.
The commitment is in line with Peruvian legislation. However, the law is rarely enforced in Peru and Talisman's public commitment to respect it sets the company apart in the oil boom currently sweeping the Peruvian rainforest. A similar commitment from Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum eventually led to the company's withdrawal from Achuar territory, handing over its two concessions, "block 101" and "block 64" to Talisman. Together, the concessions cover a total of four million acres of pristine tropical rainforest in the Pastaza and Morona River basins, inhabited by the Achuar since time immemorial.
The Achuar's attorney, Lily La Torre, Director of the Lima-based indigenous rights group Racimos de Ungurahui, welcomed Talisman's assurance. "We trust that Talisman will honor this public commitment," she said. "The indigenous communities, who have been fighting for 12 years to keep their land free of oil drilling, will hold Talisman to its promise and ensure that the company keeps its word."
The Achuar delegation also requested a meeting with executives from Petrolifera, another Calgary oil company, which also owns a hydrocarbon concession on Achuar land. Petrolifera, which rejected the request for a meeting, now owns a concession known as "Block 106", in the neighboring Corrientes River basin, where the local Achuar representative federation FECONACO is both opposed to oil exploitation and insists it has not been meaningfully consulted by either the company or the Peruvian government during the process of granting concessions on ancestral lands.
The Achuar have a long and deeply disturbing history of exploitation at the hands of the oil industry. They are currently suing Oxy, which dumped a total of nine billion barrels of toxic wastewater directly into the rainforest in and around the Corrientes River, while it drilled for 30 years. Earlier today in Los Angeles, more than 80 people including actress Daryl Hannah, staged a demonstration at Oxy's corporate headquarters demanding that the company clean up its contamination in the Amazon.
Manuel Tampet Najarip, leader of the Rubina native community and member of ORACH, the Achuar federation of the Pastaza river basin, said: "We came to Canada to tell the executives and shareholders of Talisman that we will not accept oil operations on our territory. In our vision of the world, our forests are healthy and free of contamination. We do not base our development on oil, but on other resources which we have in our forests, living in harmony with mother earth."
Even with modern technology and best industry practices, oil and gas drilling is likely to take a heavy toll on the Amazon rainforest and its waterways, and therefore on the indigenous people who have lived in harmony with them for millennia and who continue to depend on healthy plants and fish and game populations for their survival.
Talisman acquired full working interest in Block 101 in 2006 and increased its interests in Block 64 to 50 percent in 2007. The concessions also overlap the Pastaza alluvial fan, an enormous wetlands area, classified as a site of international importance under the RAMSAR Convention. Dozens of species of animals listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are found in these wetlands, along with 17 species on the International Union of Concerned Scientists "Red List of Threatened Species". The cumulative impact of oil activities in the coming years would likely contribute to some species' extinction.
In particular, the roads necessitated by oil exploitation will open up the rainforest to further unsustainable penetration by colonists, poachers and loggers. Academic studies have repeatedly shown that forest for dozens of miles on either side of a road becomes degraded or disappears altogether within a few decades of road construction. Meanwhile, traditional communities are likely to suffer health impacts and imposed socio-cultural change, including outbreaks of disease including STDs, alcoholism, crime and the loss of their culture and language.
With deforestation accounting for roughly 20 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, public policies and the behavior of the private sector should both seek to avoid further deforestation rather than actually increase it.
Delegation participants: Carlos Mukuin Tiris, founder of AIM, a federation of Achuar communities in the Pastaza river basin in the northern Peruvian Amazon; Manuel Tampet Najarip, leader of the Rubina native community and member of ORACH, the Achuar federation of the Pastaza river basin; Henderson Rengifo, leader of FECONACO, the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes river basin; Lily La Torre, attorney of the Achuar and Director of the Lima-based indigenous rights group Racimos de Ungurahui
Media Contacts: Simeon Tegel, in San Francisco: 415-487-9600; Andrew Miller/Maria Ramos, in Calgary: 202-674-5576