Costa Ricans could get the chance to vote on the future of their country’s oil and gas exploration policy after a court on Friday authorized pro-exploration activists to gather signatures for what would be only the second referendum in its history.
The government of Carlos Alvarado defends the moratorium on oil and gas exploration that several administrations with that of President Abel Pacheco in 2002, and extended to 2050 by Alvarado this February, as part of a carbon emission reduction plan.
The country started efforts to ban its exploration in 2002 under President Abel Pacheco. This ban was supposed to expire in 2014 but later extended until 2050.
Costa Rica generates over 97% of its power from renewable sources according to the state power company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), but needs to import a relatively small volume of fuel, mainly for the country’s vehicle fleet.
Last year Costa Rica imported 20 million barrels of refined products, some 55,000 barrels per day, for more than US$1.6 billion, according to figures from State refinery, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope).
Activists, led by Carlos Roldan, a chemical engineer at the top public university specializing in engineering and science, Tecnológico de Costa Rica (TEC), must now obtain the support of at least 171,000 people on the electoral roll, or 5%, for the referendum to go ahead.
“If politicians deprive us of the possibility to take advantage of our own resources for our well-being, the people have the opportunity to decide otherwise,” Roldan said. “We cannot afford to have this wealth and not use it.”
The future of the project in favor of oil exploration will depend on popular support. In 2017, 70% were opposed, according to a local survey. In past decades, environmental reasons have frustrated at least two oil exploration projects in the northern and Caribbean area of the country.
In recent months, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Panama have taken steps to open up the possibility of oil exploration.
Brazil, Guyana and Mexico, all of which have vast proven oil reserves, have attracted billions of dollars in oil investment by awarding exploration and production rights.