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Niscota oil block in Boyacá and Casanare, Colombia


In May 2000, as part of the government´s aggressive policy adjustments for attracting multinationals, British Petroleum (BP) and state-owned Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos (Ecopetrol) signed an oil exploration contract for the Niscota oil block covering 62,275ha of land in the northeastern part of the Andes mountain range encompassing the municipality of Paya in Boyacá as well as the municipalities of Paz de Ariporo, Támara, Nunchía, and Yopal in Casanare [7]. In July 2005, however, BP and Ecopetrol returned their shares owing to not having a promising exploration phase. BP did drilling in the area that reached depths of 19,000 feet (5,795 meters) without positive results, despite requiring investments of about $80 million. Yet In September 2006, the National Hydrocarbons Agency then sold additional oil contracts to Total, Repsol, Corporinoquia, Equión, Tempa, Perenco, Hocol (subsidiary of Maurel & Prom), Pluspetrol, Talisman, and Lukoil, as well as recontracted those of Ecopetral and BP [6].

Paya, in Boyacá, is an especially vulnerable town with a 94% poverty rate and a long history of repression and exclusion [10]. The local population of 5,000 does not have access to electricity, roads, proper sewage, and is 75% illiterate. In 2002, BP announced plans to drill wells in Paya for Niscota [8]. Local groups have long been organizing against the project because of the serious threats that it poses to local communities, indigenous peoples, and the environment [1]. For decades, activists have been protesting and litigating against the Niscota oil block for polluting groundwater reserves, disrupting ecological balances, destroying biodiversity and protected ecosystems/species, violating prior consent rights, causing loss of livelihoods, threatening culturally important sites, threatening public health, encroaching upon indigenous territories protected by recognized land rights, lack of environmental impact analysis, and more [4]. Niscota is also precariously sited on top of fault lines. However, the Ministry of Mines and Energy refuses to acknowledge that prior consultation was necessary on the false grounds that there are no ancestral people nearby [10].

The Niscota oil block is especially notorious for its violence and threats against local leaders, particularly coming from a thug group called "The Black Eagles Movement of Social Cleaning of the Casanareño Piedemonte" as well as from the XVI Brigade military group, the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas, and the FARC EP Front 28 [1, 10]. Guerilla, military, and thug groups camp around farms and towns to threaten locals with kidnappings, assassinations, extortion, recruitment, harassment, torture, sexual assault of women, and more [10]. Notoriously, on December 15, 2012, hitmen shot and killed activist Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto, who was the leader of the Peasant Association of Morcote and the Province of La Libertad, Peasant Workers Protectors of the Land and Territory (ASOCAMPROV-LIBERTAD), and collaborator of the Claretiana Corporation "Norman Pérez Bello" (a religious civil society organization) [9]. [12]. She had been fighting against the Niscota oil block since July 2012. Neighbors found her body after hearing the gunshots between 15:00 and 17:00 that day, but were not able to report which armed group committed the crime. At 18:00, children, relatives, and supporters were transporting the body on the way to Morcote, a nearby urban area, when two bombs went off, killing two. The villagers scattered and hid, and there has still never been any resolution [10]. Hitmen also attacked community leader José María Largo, who since 2014 has been confined to his house following violent threats and an incident wherein he was confronted on horseback and paralyzed, forcing him to use a wheelchair [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Niscota oil block in Boyacá and Casanare, Colombia
State or province:La Libertad, department of Boyacá
Location of conflict:Paya
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Niscota block is at the bottom of the Andes mountain range 300 kilometers northeast of Bogota. The block comprises of a gas condensate field, an exploration well named Huron-1, and several other wells. Niscota has drilled 5,500 meters deep into an area with a high concentration of fault lines to reach several oil reservoirs producing an estimated 3,400 barrels daily of natural gas [2]. The fields also produce at least 50,000 barrels of liquid oil daily [3]. The fields' liquids are exported to the coast through the Ocensa pipeline (Total, 15.2%), while the gas is sold to the domestic market, mainly in Bogota [5]. On 16 July 2002 the newspaper El Tiempo had announced, "COLOMBIA LE APUESTA A NISCOTA. Las expectativas de hallazgos de reservas de crudo en la región están centradas en un proyecto de exploración que se iniciará próximamente en jurisdicción de Casanare y cuyo radio de acción se extiende hasta Boyacá". [11].

Project area:62,275
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:05/2000
Company names or state enterprises:British Petroleum (BP) from United Kingdom
Total SA (Total) from France
Ecopetrol from Colombia
Repsol S.A. (Repsol) from Ecuador
Corporinoquia from Colombia
Equión energía limited from Colombia
Tempa from Colombia
Perenco Oil and Gas Co. from France
HOCOL S.A. (HOCOL ) from Colombia
Pluspetrol from Argentina
Talisman Energy from Canada
Lukoil from Russian Federation
Relevant government actors:Colombian Ombudsman's Office, the Attorney General's Office, the Prosecutor's Office, the Ministries of Environment, Mines and Energy, the Environmental Licensing Authority, the National Hydrocarbons Agency
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Claretiana Corporation " Norman Pérez Bello".
The Association of Campesinos y Campesinas (AsoCamprovLibertad)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Global warming, Soil contamination, Oil spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Specific impacts on women


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There has been complete impunity for all the social and environmental violences, including killings of activists. Locals are too afraid for their lives to act.

Sources & Materials

[1] TeleSUR. 13 campesinos son amenazados en Boyacá, Colombia (2016)

[2] NS Energy. Total Announces Gas Condensate Discovery At Niscota Block In Colombia (2009)

[3] Europetrole. Talisman Energy and Ecopetrol Agree to Acquire BP Exploration Company (Colombia) Limited (2010)

[4] Prensa Libre. Acción Popular contra proyecto petrolero Niscota (Angelok 2017),op,sc

[5] Rigzone. Total Acquires Interest in Colombia's Niscota Block (2006)

[6] El Economista. Agencia hidrocarburos adjudicará bloque Niscota (2006),op,sc

[7] Caracol. BP prevé perforar en promisoria zona petrolera Colombia en julio (2002)


[9] FIDH. Assassination of Mrs. Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto (2012)

[10] Colectivo de abogados. Asesinada Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto y otros dos pobladores (Cajar 2012),op,sc

[11] El Tiempo, 16 July 2002 .COLOMBIA LE APUESTA A NISCOTA

Las expectativas de hallazgos de reservas de crudo en la región están centradas en un proyecto de exploración que se iniciará próximamente en jurisdicción de Casanare y cuyo radio de acción se extiende hasta Boyacá.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[12] El Observatorio ha recibido con indignación informaciones acerca del asesinato de la Sra. Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto, lideresa de la Asociación Campesina de Morcote y de la Provincia de la Libertad, Trabajadores Campesinos Protectores de la Tierra y el Territorio (ASOCAMPROV-LIBERTAD), y colaboradora de la Comisión - Corporación Claretiana de Justicia y Paz Norman Pérez Bello. 21/12/2012. FEDERACIÓN INTERNACIONAL POR LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS. FIDH.

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, [email protected]
Last update28/12/2021
Conflict ID:5705



Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto

Photo AWID

Total Niscota facility

Photo Archivo Semana