While media focuses on Keystone XL, Canadian energy companies make a killing in Latin America

By Dawn Paley / The Dominion

The hard fought battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, which was slated to carry tar sands crude across Canada and the United States to port in Texas, kicked struggles against Canadian-owned oil and gas companies up to a new level. Resistance dominated headlines in Canada, while rural folk, Indigenous people, celebrities, and climate activists in the US took direct action to block Calgary-based TransCanada’s plans. In northern BC, Indigenous-led resistance to the proposed Enbridge pipeline, along with a host of other US-owned infrastructure projects, have become front and centre issues for environmentalists and activists across Canada.

The role of Canadian oil, gas and pipeline companies in other parts of the world is, however, less discussed. Many activists have focused on the behavior of the Canadian mining sector, a natural choice given the size of that sector compared to the oil and gas industries in Canada. “In Canada, a major difference between the oil and gas and mining sectors is that while many of Canada’s largest companies are oil and gas producers, some with integrated operations, they are not particularly prominent in the global arena just now,” reads a 2008 report by the Economic Commission on Latin America.

It’s been four years since that report was released, and it might be time to revisit the idea that the Canadian oil and gas sector hasn’t gained prominence on a global scale. Take the case of Latin America, where a host of oil and gas companies based in Calgary and Toronto have been increasing their holdings throughout the hemisphere, taking advantage of the same lax legal standards Canadian mining companies enjoy.

A study by Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP found that in 2010, Canadian oil and gas companies made over $35 billion in mergers and acquisitions in Central and Latin America, and the region is the second most attractive place (after the United States) for Canadian oil companies to invest outside of Canada. Colombia in particular has quickly become a favourite destination for this new surge of Canadian oil and gas investment.

At the same time as the Canadian Senate approved a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia in June of 2010, a government-hosted bidding fair on oil and gas properties was taking place in Cartagena, Colombia. “I have some good news for our Canadian friends. The Senate has just approved a free trade agreement…so that opens the way for a lot of opportunities and our government is very happy about that,” said then-Colombian Energy and Mining Minister Hernan Martinez to corporate representatives bidding on oil and gas concessions in Cartagena that day.

Canadian oil companies were among the chief supporters of the agreement, which was roundly criticized because of the continued killings, kidnapping and displacement of Indigenous people, trade unionists, peasants, dissenters and the poor in Colombia. A free trade agreement with Peru was approved by the Canadian Senate a little later, on the heels of a massacre in the Amazon province of Bagua where an estimated 100 people were killed during protests in defense of their lands.

Pacific Rubiales and Talisman, two of the most important Canadian oil companies in Colombia, have already come under intense criticism linked to the high environmental and social cost of their operations.

Read more from The Dominion: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4439

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