Mapuche: The Costs of Oil and Mining


Written by Darío Aranda, Translation by Christina Hewitt –

Date of publication: 
28 February 2014

First Peoples Worldwide, a United States NGO, published a report indicating that some of the largest US mining and oil companies operate on indigenous Mapuche land, threatening the culture and survival of the communities.

A study by a United States NGO shows that the main US mining and oil companies operate on the lands of 370 indigenous communities in 36 countries.

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The largest oil and mining companies in the US operate on 370 indigenous community sites in 36 countries and in most cases natural resources are extracted with no respect for the rights of the indigenous population. The extraction companies operate out of 41 sites around Latin America, with five in Argentina. An indication of the impact of extraction on indigenous communities: 39% of drilled hydrocarbon fields are located in indigenous territories and nearly half (46%) of proven oil and gas reserves are on indigenous land.

The United States NGO, First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) published their report, ‘Indigenous Rights: risk report for the extractive industries’, based on data from the largest 52 oil and mining companies in the Unites States. Although it is primarily aimed at businesses (evaluating corporate risk), it provides useful information for indigenous organisations. The main companies operating on land affecting indigenous peoples are the oil companies, ConocoPhillips (44 sites), ExxonMobil (35), Chevron (24) and Apache (19) and the mining companies, Southern Copper (17), Freeport-McMoRan (16), Newmont Mining (14) and Peabody Energy (14).

The data provided promises major unrest: 39% of the oil and gas produced by these companies is on or near indigenous territories, while 46% of oil or gas reserves are on indigenous lands.

The United States tops the ranking list of mining and oil companies operating on indigenous lands with 157 cases, followed by Canada (74), Australia (24) and Indonesia (23). In Latin America there are 41 cases of US corporations affecting indigenous communities. Mexico and Peru each have nine cases, Chile, six cases and Argentina, five. Colombia and Venezuela each have four cases. Ecuador has two, while Nicaragua and Surinam each have one.

The NGO reminds businesses that indigenous peoples are backed by international legislation, such as International Labor Organization Convention 169 (ILO 169) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It highlights indigenous peoples right to free, prior and informed consent of any action which may affect their land or way of life.

The five cases in Argentina cited in the report are located in the Neuquén basin. EOG Resources oil company operates in the north of the province, in the Vaca Muerte oil field. WPX Energy, with a controlling interest in Apco Oil (which runs Entre Lomas oil company in Argentina), also drills in Neuquén and Río Negro.

The Apache oil company stands out in the 34-page report. It is currently in conflict with the Gelay Ko and Winkel Newen Mapuche communities on the outskirts of Zapala, where the company does not have the consent of the local communities. The oil giant ExxonMobil also operates out of the Vaca Muerte oil fields together with YPF, Petrobras, Pan American Energy and the local GyP (Neuquén Gas and Oil), with franchises in Rincón de la Sauces and Añelo.

The NGO highlights the Chevron operation in Vaca Muerte as the case with the highest business risk factor. We are reminded of the warning issued by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2011 on the abuse of indigenous rights in Argentina. “For many years, the Mapuche have peacefully protested and participated in campaigns to defend their human rights, protected by the national Constitution”, notes the report. The spokesperson for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, Jorge Nahuel, cites: “There is no doubt that all the announcements on these oil megafields are a clear and direct threat to the life and culture of the Mapuche communities”.

Referring to the five oil companies operating on Mapuche territory, the NGO states: “There have been Mapuche protests against the contamination of their water and the lack of indigenous consent for businesses to operate in their territory”. The report also mentions “environmental groups” mobilized over the dangers of fracking and reminds us that the Mapuche people are present in Rio Negro, Chubut and La Pampa. The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén accounts for at least 29 communities that live on the Vaca Muerta Formation.