GUATEMALA CITY – President Alvaro Colom announced the renewal of a concession for oil drilling inside a national park despite German lawmakers’ attempts to prevent further crude production in that environmentally sensitive area.
During a ceremony Friday in the town of Santa Elena, in the northern province of Peten, Colom said the contract with France’s Perenco has been renewed for another 15 years.
The contract for the Xan oil field, which is Guatemala’s largest and is located inside the Laguna del Tigre National Park, had been due to expire on Aug. 13.
Colom said part of the taxes and revenues that Perenco pays the government will be used to cover the costs of military personnel to guard the Maya Biosphere Reserve – which includes Laguna del Tigre and other national parks – as well as to fund reforestation and environmental protection projects.
Over the past 10 years, the French company has paid a total of 5.85 billion quetzales ($731.75 million) into government coffers.
The contract was renewed even though a group of German lawmakers had proposed that a multi-million-dollar fund be set up to pay the Guatemalan state for not exploiting crude reserves inside the natural reserve, located near Guatemala’s border with Mexico.
The Prensa Libre daily reported Friday that lawmakers from five German political parties issued the proposal in a letter sent to Colom.
According to the letter, the Maya Biosphere Reserve is known internationally for its biological diversity and numerous archaeological sites and is Central America’s largest tropical rainforest.
The German legislators wanted Colom to accept a plan similar to an initiative in Ecuador, under which that country’s government has committed to indefinitely refraining from exploiting the oil reserves in the Yasuni National Park, in the Amazon region.
In turn, Ecuador’s government will receive compensation equivalent to at least 50 percent of the profits that it would receive if it were to exploit the reserves.
In statements to Prensa Libre, German lawmaker Frank Schwabe said he asked Colom in the letter not to renew the contract, unless it were only extended for two years to allow time for setting up the fund.
Guatemalan environmental groups such as the Legal, Environmental and Social Action Center have criticized oil-drilling activities in Laguna del Tigre, saying that it is damaging that important natural reserve.
Perenco, for its part, says on its Web site that its footprint in Laguna del Tigre amounts to just 0.3 percent of the park and that serious problems in that reserve, “such as those caused by migrant communities’ illegal slash and burn farming techniques ... are not related to Perenco’s activities.”
The company also says it is “committed to a reforestation program that will ensure that the small area used by Perenco is returned to its original condition.” EFE