Peruvian leaders protest at Talisman AGM

Date of publication: 
5 May 2010

CALGARY – Indigenous leaders and elders from Peru told a Calgary-based oil company Wednesday that it is not welcome in their homeland.

The small delegation from the Peruvian jungle braved a snowy Calgary day to say their piece at Talisman Energy’s (TSX:TLM) annual general meeting.

They were accompanied by members of Amazon Watch, a group involved in protecting the rainforest and the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon Basin.

Cesar Zuniga Butuna, the elected leader of the Achuar people, said life was better before the oil company began to operate in the region.

“We’ve come here to ask Talisman to respect us, and that they leave our territory because they don’t have our permission to be working here,” he said, translated by Gregor MacLennan of Amazon Watch.

The oil company has done exploratory drilling in the area where the Achuar people live. This is the third year that leaders from the area have travelled to the company’s annual meeting.

Mitchell Anderson of Amazon Watch said the majority of indigenous people do not want any more drilling in the area. They’re worried about what development could mean to their traditional way of life, he said.

“Their forest is their market, it is their pharmacy, and they want to protect it.”

Three of the Peruvian leaders met with Talisman president John Manzoni and spoke at the company’s annual general meeting.

Manzoni told them at the meeting that the company respects their opinions.

“I will reiterate what I said two years ago: where we don’t have consent we will not operate,” he said.

“We have seven agreements in place where a majority of community leaders have accepted and indeed welcomed Talisman’s operations and we have five further good neighbour agreements where we are in discussion with the neighbouring communities who also are happy with Talisman’s operations.”

A report released this week that was commissioned by Talisman explores the concept of getting free, prior and informed consent from indigenous people about proposed energy projects.

The oil giant asked for the report at the request of several investors who were concerned about Talisman’s operations in areas where there has been some local resistance, including Peru.

FranCois Meloche, extra financial risk manager at Quebec pension fund Batirente, one of the concerned investors, said that if local people are unhappy with a project it can cause expensive delays, so it’s in both the company’s social and business interests to obtain such consent.

“There’s been several cases documented of opposition that have translated into costs because the projects were either slowed down or cancelled or postponed,” he said.

“The obstacles make the projects less feasible and less interesting financially.”

Obtaining such consent goes a step above the community engagement already practised by most energy companies, said the report, which was written by a Washington-based law firm.

It includes making sure that people have enough technical and legal understanding to fully know what the project entails. It also means that people have the right to say no.

The report suggests that Talisman adopt principles of free, prior and informed consent into its policies for dealing with indigenous people.

The company said it would “take time to absorb the report’s recommendations and consider their implications for our global approach to community and indigenous relations.”

MacLennan of Amazon Watch said the company needs to do better in communicating with indigenous people.

“It’s crucial, I think, that the company develop a clear policy so that it can avoid a situation like right now, where there seems to be a disconnect between what the company thinks and the reality on the ground, which the Achuar are here to say —- that they are opposed to Talisman being here.”

Manzoni told a news conference that the company will be extremely careful as they progress with development in Peru.

“We’ve drilled some successful wells in Peru and as we go forward we will have to very carefully and very thoughtfully progress our consultations and discussions with the local people.”