Court says Colombia votes cannot block mining, oil projects

BOGOTA, Oct 11 (Reuters) – Colombia's constitutional court has ruled that local referendums that ban mining and oil extraction cannot halt energy projects, local media reported on Thursday, after a raft of votes that spooked multinational companies.

A wave of environmentally focused anti-mining referendums over the past 18 months have worried investors and forced AngloGold Ashanti to suspended a potential $2 billion project last year.

At least one municipality has said it will mount a pro-mining referendum to protect local companies and subsistence miners, while multinational miners have repeatedly called for clarity on whether the referendums, be they pro or anti-mining, are binding.

The previous government failed to legislate the issue, but President Ivan Duque, who took office two months ago, promised during his campaign to boost investment in the sector. Promised during his campaign to boost investment in the sector.

The country's subsoil is national property and cannot be restricted by local authorities, local media quoted the court ruling as saying.

The national government, however, cannot exercise sole control over extractive projects and Congress must pass regulations within two years that allow communities to voice opposition to mining and oil projects.

The ruling on the suit brought by Mansarovar Energy Colombia, a joint venture between India's ONGC-Videsh and China's Sinopec, was backed 5 to 1 by magistrates, several local outlets reported.

Mansarovar brought the suit after residents of Cumaral municipality in Meta province voted last year to ban oil exploration.

A spokesperson for the Constitutional Court did not confirm the content of the ruling and said it did not yet have a statement or a copy of it. The content of the ruling was reported by at least three major local news outlets.

Mansarovar could not immediately be reached for comment.

The private oil producers association, ACP, which joined the Mansarovar suit, said it had not yet received a copy of the ruling.

The mines and energy ministry had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Helen Murphy and Dan Grebler)