|This article originally appeared in
|Peru's Camisea project an extreme marriage of
drilling, ecological care
|"There are those who see Camisea as Shell's efforts to purify itself after the problems in Nigeria," said Robert David Shaw, a U.S.-based
business author who specializes in environmental issues. "These companies have earned people's distrust over the years. Because of
that, Shell and Mobil will have to work that much harder to earn their trust when it comes to Camisea."
A generation ago, a project like Camisea might have been developed with a fleet of bulldozers to clear the way and a dozen barrels of
cheap rum to bribe the locals.
But developing concern about the environment outside the industry is resulting in a new style of development.
"The industry had to change or die," said Alonso Zarzar, an anthropologist associated with Camisea. "The old ways don't work any more."
It's not simply a desire to be an environmental good citizen that forces companies to cast themselves in the mold of the changed
business model; it's their bottom line.
A spotty environmental record opens the door to boycotts and giant lawsuits. There's also a strong possibility, some analysts say, that
companies with clean environmental track records will be given preference in developing projects in sensitive areas.
"In the future, companies with questionable environmental records could find themselves fighting legal battles and locked out of
negotiations for some lucrative projects," said Shaw. "That's when shareholders start becoming angry."
The enormous size of this find presents another problem -- how to deliver and sell all that gas?
Camisea's reserves are enough to meet the current natural gas needs in Lima into the 23rd century, which means that before
production starts in 2001, the project's organizers must help develop a market for their product almost from scratch.
That is so far requiring the organizers to lobby the government to charge low taxes on natural gas and persuading local companies to
switch to natural gas from more traditional energy sources such as coal and thermoelectric power.
To make things even more difficult, the gas pipeline -- being built by a consortium that includes the Houston office of the Bechtel
engineering company -- from Camisea has to take rocky path across the Andes, the highest tropical mountain range in the world, in
order to make it to its market in Lima on the Pacific Coast.
Estimates are that development of the wells and construction of the pipeline will cost $2.7 billion to $3 billion, and maybe more if branch
lines are eventually built to pipe Camisea's gas to markets in La Paz, Bolivia, or Sâo Paulo, Brazil, both of which are much more difficult
to reach than Lima.
"Even before the environmental concerns of the company, this project is uniquely difficult," said Andrew Vickers, a Shell spokesman.
Critics say those difficulties along with environmental concerns should make developing Camisea unattractive.
"I don't understand why the company doesn't look at all the difficulties to developing (Camisea) and just say 'It isn't worth the trouble,' "
said Mario Nuñez, a lobbyist specializing in environmental issues, who has called for Camisea's development to be halted. "That way,
the environment wins. Once the project starts, it's too late."
But the government sees Camisea as a way to provide plentiful and inexpensive power that will help develop a large industrial sector
and create thousands of jobs, one of the greatest challenges in poor, developing countries like Peru.
And Shell and Mobil clearly see the project as profitable despite the obstacles.
"What I can't figure out is why environmentalists don't hold this project out as an example," said Hunt, the project's director. "Why don't
they challenge other companies to be as proactive as we're being?"
|© 1998 Houston Chronicle
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|March 18, 1998