This month, Peru’s Finance Ministry approved plans submitted by Anglo-French oil company Perenco SA to invest $1 billion over the next three years to extract crude from an oil field in the northern province of Loreto near Ecuador’s border.
An international tribal-support organization and local Indian rights groups say the oil field is the ancestral home of up to three nomadic Indian communities living in voluntary isolation.
"If Perenco works in the area, it could lead to more than half of the uncontacted Indians being wiped out," said Stephen Corry, director of the London-based tribal-support organization Survival International.
Isolated groups lack immunity to common Western diseases and are vulnerable to contact with oil workers, loggers and other outsiders.
Peru’s environmental minister has said there is no definitive proof that such groups live in the region. President Alan Garcia says the oil field, which contains an estimated 300 million barrels, would turn Peru into a net oil exporter.
A company spokesman for Perence in Peru said no official was available for comment Monday.
The Peruvian Jungle Inter-Ethnic Development Association, or AIDESEP, a national rights group, filed a lawsuit in Loreto in 2007 and has petitioned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to halt the oil project.
A court in Loreto ruled last October against AIDESEP, which is appealing to Peru’s highest court in Lima, AIDESEP spokesman Edson Rosales told The Associated Press on Monday.
Perenco plans to build 100 oil wells in the area and extract 100,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the company’s Web site. But the project requires new oil pipelines to connect the field to Peru’s main pipeline grid.
Peru’s state oil company Petroperu planned to invest $1 billion to build the pipelines, but last week Peru’s oil and mining minister said falling global oil prices have forced the government to "re-evaluate" the project.
Without Petroperu’s pipeline investment, Perenco would have to assume all the transportation costs itself. Perenco has not indicated any plans to suspend the project.
Perenco acquired the rights to the oil block last year when oil prices were still above $100 a barrel. Prices for light, sweet crude have since dropped to $48. Peru’s heavy crude trades at 15 to 20 percent lower than light crude.
Survival International says there are more than 100 tribes living in voluntary isolation worldwide, most of them in Brazil and Peru.
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