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| 10/4/2011 6:00:00 PM

The bad seed

Boyacá, a Colombian department, is living an episode of the clash between the oil boom and the environment. The problem arises from a pumping station of Ecopetrol, the largest and primary petroleum company of the country.

A project that Ecopetrol is planning to advance in Boyacá has confronted two municipalities: Sutamarchán and Villa de Leyva . This company is trying to extend a storage and pumping station which is located in the area. According to the state company, the country needs this work in order to transport the crude extracted from the Eastern region of the Llanos Orientales to the ports.

The idea of Ecopetrol is to expand the capacity of the pumping station of Sutamarchán from 54,000 to 120,000 barrels a day and the storage of naphtha (solvent) required to mix the heavy oil. So far, much of this input is transported in tankers, which generates large congestion on the roads and causes the decline of the infrastructure.

With these considerations, Ecopetrol requested last December to the Ministry of Environment, a license to begin the work.

The residents of Villa de Leyva who are against the project arguing that it will jeopardize the environment and the geological and archaeological heritage of the region, but curiously Sutamarchán neighbors do not see a problem there. On the contrary, they believe that the work could bring a great opportunity for the municipality.

In Villa de Leyva was formed the Collective for the Integrated Defense of Saquencipá Valley, who don’t support the work because of environmental and tourism reasons.

According to Carlos Roberto Castellanos, Sutamarchán’s Major, this problem is a matter of envy of the Municipality of Villa de Leyva. "The project has all the environmental studies, it would not affect the tourism, the community approves it, but the Major Germán Vicente Sanchez and the Collective do not accept it because it is not on their territory," he says. The Sutamarchán’s Major also believes that the municipality will be favored because of this pumping station. The work would create, for a year and a half, 400 jobs and Ecopetrol will invest $17.000 million dollars in productive projects and $14,000 million dollars in road maintenance. Moreover, according to Ecopetrol, they would ensure the mobilization of 490,000 barrels of heavy oil.

The idea of the company is to invest 80 million dollars to build five storage tanks, one of water to prevent fire, one water treatment system, a power line, and five pumping units in 32 acres of the 60 that belongs to the plant.

Manuel Rodriguez, the former Minister of the Environment and director of the National Environmental Council, said that the real problem is that the region in the last five decades has grown from its many unique assets and that should not be jeopardized. "So there are those who see in the expansion of the plant a turn for the life of the region, because of the new works of the oil industry" he said.

Ecopetrol has conducted 23 days of socialization in which some 500 people and authorities of the municipalities of Sutamarchán, Villa de Leyva, Sáchica and Santa Sofía have participated. The topic is so complicated that the last discussion almost ended in a fight.

Alvaro Castañeda, vice president of Transportation of Ecopetrol, thinks that the problem is that in Villa de Leyva "the community believes that the company would perform crude oil extractions and the region will change throughout the economic and social shake that characterizes the oil areas in the country ".

Frank Pearl, the new Environment minister, has the last word in this issue. He would have to solve the debate between environmentalists and those responsible for the expansion of mining and energy.

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