Colombia streamlines approvals

COLOMBIA is cracking down on its environmental approvals for oil, mining and infrastructure projects after industry reported delays of up to 19 months.

Anthony Barich

The move comes as oil and gas companies often complain that they need to apply for permission from multiple authorities under current rules.

The government has focused afresh on offshore and unconventionals, including coal seam gas, this year as its growth in reserves has not been able to match its production increasing each year.

Discoveries, while made regularly, tend to be of only a modest size in spite of the investment made in exploration.

With community groups in some parts of Colombia firmly against resources extraction, particularly in relation to environmental and water use concerns, this has not affected the hydrocarbon industry to date.

In announcing its streamlined approvals regime Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo said: "The objective is not to say yes to everyone, but to say yes or no within a certain time, so there's clarity, communication and agility.”

"We continue to watch over the environment rigorously in terms of the standards under which we execute environmental licensing,” Vallejo he said.

The crackdown also included an attempt to get companies to straighten out their environmental impact studies which Vallejo said were often deficient, so the government would only have their applications fast-tracked if these reports are of an appropriate quality.

Responding to concerns about the official 90-day permit timeframe blowout, the government said it would issue a decree requiring authorities to respond to environmental licensing requests within 70 days.

The National Authority for Environmental Licensing will be restructured to ensure it complies with the new time limits – though the time limit for modification requests to granted licenses will be left unchanged at 60 days.

Vallejo said companies wanting to use hydraulic fracturing would only be granted licences if projects met high environmental standards.

An Australian Trade Commission representative told an investment forum in Perth earlier this year that the Colombian government was interested in Australia’s offshore regulatory framework, especially around marine environment protection.

It was also seeking Australian expertise on CSG gas regulatory framework around overlapping claims, community engagement, water use and environmental management.

Colombian educational institutions and companies like Ecopetrol and its Corporativa University were looking for research and student exchange links with Australian institutions in oil and gas to advance co-operative efforts.

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