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Oilwatch in the face of nationalizations

Oilwatch in the face of nationalizations


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By Oilwatch

The main tool for controlling natural wealth from transnational interests is privatization. This privatization has become the most perverse action of the moment against environmental interests, community interests and therefore the economic interests of the country.

Oilwatch has proposed as part of its agenda the fight for Energy Sovereignty

Energy sovereignty raises, in addition to access to energy, concepts on the control of energy resources, also incorporating elements on the type and quality of energy used. It promotes non-dependent, renewable and low-impact sources. For this, two conditions are basic: on the one hand, that the State regain control of its energy sources and processes and, on the other, open processes of participation of national societies in order to, sovereignly, initiate a process of transition to a non-oil model that solves the energy needs of societies and respects three premises:


To guarantee life and the future, it is necessary to guarantee the sustainability and health of nature.

  • An independent, autonomous and libertarian model must be based on sovereignty.
  • You cannot speak of well-being and sustainability if you do not speak of justice and equity.

In the sovereignty debate there are two tendencies that confront each other. On the one hand, the global ones that promote privatizations as strategies for controlling resources and markets, and on the other, the defense of national sovereignties.

The “privatization - sovereignty” dilemma goes beyond the confrontation between the private company and the State, among them what is at stake is the community. Who should have access, control and decision-making capacity over natural resources? Who finally controls the territories where these riches are found?

Several countries have taken steps to regain, at least partially, control of their energy resources. On the one hand, there is Bolivia's recent decision to nationalize its hydrocarbon wealth. The recent expiration of the Oxy company contract in Ecuador is important, since it was the most important transnational company in the country and now all its assets will revert to the State. Other steps have been taken in Latin America to rebuild national oil companies, such as Argentina, strengthen public investment, in the case of Brazil, change the terms of contracts, in Ecuador or tax the operations of the companies. private companies in Venezuela. The case of Chile, which without having oil, each day strengthens its state oil company

The main tool for controlling natural wealth from transnational interests is privatization. This privatization has become the most perverse action of the moment against environmental interests, community interests and therefore the economic interests of the country.

The neoliberal tendencies of privatization run up against the interest of recovering in some cases and in others of strengthening the sovereignty of the States. From the industrialized countries and especially from those with oil deficits, campaigns are organized, interventions are planned, pressure is exerted in order to soften the governments of countries with these resources, to facilitate the privatization and control of oil and gas reserves. .

The oil industry, from its chaotic beginnings to the processes of nationalization of reserves in the 1970s, has faced different pressures from the sector, and permanent attempts to privatize them. The private companies practically absent until 20 years ago, from the member countries of OPEC, gained a lot of strength through different contracts. However, in the last period there is a new wave of nationalizations.

However, many times, in the name of national sovereignty, abuses are committed because the State assumes the defense of transnational interests or national elites.

A true debate on energy sovereignty must place the issue of communities, their priorities, their needs, aspirations, and respect for their rights at the highest level of importance.

And while recovering the sovereignty of the States is a basic condition for the countries, it is also to speak about the rights of the communities that resist the destruction of their territories by oil.

Following the line of the privatization of hydrocarbon wealth can be illustrative to understand the roles of companies, the State and communities.

-Privatization of prospecting: The State grants exploration permits, it does not keep the information…. Halliburton is the main exploration company and has information on the main deposits. Communities lose control of their land. In Colombia for example, it owns the Petroleum Information Bank. Meanwhile, the communities lose control of their land. When the State hands over a concession, the entire population loses the right to enter the concession area, private companies place strict controls and no one can enter without authorization from the company, even if it involves indigenous ancestral territories.

-Privatization of extraction: For the extraction, companies that provide services come into play, which are outsourcing. In this way, companies are not responsible for the impacts caused.


Private companies, which are generally not controlled by government agencies, tend to extract the resource as quickly as possible because the only thing they are interested in is economic income. The consequences of this overexploitation of the deposits economically harm the State and the environment as they produce a greater amount of waste than are normally thrown into water sources, contaminating the ecosystems which greatly affects local communities.

-Privatization of transportation: The construction of pipelines, often presented as investments, is really the way to take control of the transportation of crude oil or gas. Communities lose control of their territories and resources due to the passage of the pipelines.

In Ecuador there is a Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline managed by seven transnational companies that are also oil exploiters. These companies, by controlling transportation, are the ones that also manage and control the production of heavy crude in the country.

-privatization of refining: The refining capacity is in private hands. The communities lose the health of themselves and their ecosystems, due to the pollution and destruction of the forests and because they affect the ecological balance.

-Privatization of distribution: Distribution belongs to private networks. They control petroleum derivatives. In the name of the economy, companies push the prices of derivatives in local markets, being in most third world countries, these are higher than those of the United States. Urban communities lose control of their housing sites, they become dangerous and pollution zones.

-Privatization of consumption: from the point of view of society there are a series of rights that the population has, however the privatization of everything turns these rights into services and from there it happens that citizens are really customers.

-Privatization of cleanup: once the severe impacts of oil activity have been revealed, and cleanup and remediation are imposed by national decisions or by community pressure, procedures begin to privatize all remediation work.

When an oil spill occurs, private companies are interested in cleaning up their image rather than cleaning up the spill, so they start by militarizing the area so that no one takes photos of the contamination and since no one controls them, they carry out poor cleaning jobs. They then have the luxury of saying that spills do not occur at operating sites.

-Privatization of environmental management. Several of the environmental controls are exercised today by companies, they are auditors of their own functions, there is no transparency and the communities and the State itself lose the capacity to control, supervise or audit.

In the context of privatization strategies, sovereignty is not only current, but it is a proposal that is at the heart of all agendas.

The nationalization of hydrocarbons is a fundamental step to reorganize national agendas. The conditions have been created to talk about the need for the redistribution of wealth and also about the urgency of promoting their reappropriation.

The discourse of sovereignty has been strongly placed. But sovereignty has a double dimension, on the one hand that of the role of the State and, on the other, that of the rights of the communities over their territories and natural resources.

Sovereignty must include the condition of returning to the communities control over resources and the role of the State in this context must be the role of ensuring respect for collective and environmental rights.

For the State to regain sovereignty over its wealth, means reappropriating it and preventing companies that have caused pollution, destruction of wealth or violations of rights, remain in impunity.

Without regaining sovereignty, it is impossible to guarantee the conservation of the environment, stop the destruction of ecosystems or restore those already destroyed. Nor can one think about sustainability, or the administration of natural wealth, guaranteeing the existence of future generations.

Sovereignty is the recovery of control from the communities over their wealth and at the same time it is the expression of the independence of the State against the interests of the transnationals. It is the only way to satisfy the needs and it is an opportunity to intelligently seek those ways to satisfy needs without sacrificing other resources.

Oilwatch: The OILWATCH network is made up of more than 100 organizations from Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was established 10 years ago driven by the need to develop global strategies for communities affected by oil activities and to support their resistance processes in the fight against these activities.
Oilwatch strives to grow, at a global level, environmental awareness, exposing the impacts of oil activity on tropical forests and their local populations, also establishing the relationships of this activity with the destruction of biodiversity, climate change and the violation of human and peoples rights with impunity.


Video: Should we nationalise water? - BBC Newsnight (June 2022).