Plan to Drill in Yasuni National Park Divides Ecuadorians
THE AMAZON PINK DOLPHIN’S VOICE-25/09/2013
Plan to Drill in Yasuni National Park Divides Ecuadorians
Despite protests at home and abroad, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has moved quickly to consolidate support for his decision to drill oil wells in Yasuni National Park, in that country’s portion of the Amazon Basin.
Correa announced on August 15 that he was abandoning theYasuni-ITT Initiative, which asked developed nations to donate $3.6 billion over the course of 12 years to compensate Ecuador for leaving more than 800 million barrels of oil in the ground under Yasuni National Park’s northeast corner. He noted that the initiative had raised less than one percent of its goal in the six years since he launched it.
The Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini (ITT) oil fields, which were discovered in the 1970s, hold about 20 percent of Ecuador’s known oil reserves. They’ve remained untapped for decades because of their remote location, near Ecuador’s border with Peru, and the creation of Yasuni National Park in 1979. Although Ecuador’s constitution prohibits petroleum or mineral extraction in protected areas, it allows for exceptions in cases of “national interest.”
The Ecuadorian government gets about half of its revenue from the petroleum industry, and Correa has increasingly funneled those funds into infrastructure and social programs. Correa has asked Ecuador’s congress to produce a declaration of national interest for drilling in both the ITT Block and Block 31, which is also inside Yasuni National Park, just west of ITT. The state oil companyPetroamazonashas been working in Block 31 for two years under a permit that predates the 2008 constitution, and should begin extracting oil there soon. The country’s congress began debating the issue on Friday, but given that three-fourths of its members belong to Correa’sAlianza PAISparty, approval is expected in early October.
Correa has blamed the international community for the initiative’s failure, but several people who supported it placed much of the blame on the president. They noted that while the initiative was and lauded internationally, major donors became wary after Ecuador defaulted on its foreign debt in 2008, and when Petroamazonas began work in Block 31. Several people observed that the ITT reserves hold heavy crude, which will require mixing with light crude, which is found in Block 31, before it can be pumped through the pipeline over the Andes to the ports and refineries on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
Correa’s decision to drill in ITT sparked demonstrations in several Ecuadorian cities and there have since been weekly marches in Quito, the capital. Leaders of the country’s Amazonian Native organizations signed a letter rejecting the president’s decision on the grounds that it threatens the environment and the nomadic Taromenane people, who live in voluntary isolation in Yasuni. Activists in Quito created a movement calledYasunidosthat has petitioned the country’s Constitutional Court to mandate a national referendum on the issue.
Esperanza Martinez, president of the environmental groupAccion Ecologica, lamented the government’s growing dependence on oil extraction, despite Correa’s early promises to diversify the economy and respect the “rights of nature.” She noted that the Correa administration has doubled the area of the Ecuadorian Amazon slated for oil exploitation, and borrowed billions of dollars from China, much of which is prepayment for oil deliveries.
“It is as if the government were an alcoholic father that has been selling the family’s belongings to support his habit, and now wants to sell the house,” she said.
The government has been regularly airing television and radio spots to ensure Ecuadorians that money earned from the ITT oil will be used to build schools and hospitals, and finance programs that benefit all citizens. Correa has claimed that Petroamazonas will use the latest technology to exploit the ITT reserves, that instead of roads, the company will build “ecological trails,” a mere 10 meters (30 feet) wide, and that the operation will impact just one tenth of a percent of the concession.
Biologist Kelly Swing, a professor at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito who has spent two decades studying Yasuni’s extraordinary biological diversity, expressed doubts about such claims. Swing has evaluated the environmental impacts of various oil operations in Ecuador, and he cited cases in which oil companies planned to damage no more than two percent of their concessions, but because loggers and settlers used oil roads to enter the area, as much as 20, 30 or 50 percent of the forest was damaged or destroyed.
“When the President says ‘We’re going to impact just one tenth of one percent,’ we have to have doubts about where that might lead,” said Swing. He added that Petroamazonas’ recent work in Block 31, immediately to the west of the ITT Block, doesn’t bode well for the promised environmentally friendly drilling.
Many people in the Amazon region support Correa, who was reelected last February with 57 percent of the national vote, and whose government has improved infrastructure and social services in the region. Whereas most Amazonian Native leaders oppose drilling in ITT, Correa is negotiating with theWaorani(a.k.a. Huaorani), whose ancestral territory includes the ITT block and the rest of Yasuni National Park. The likely Waorani approval of drilling in ITT could weaken the campaign to halt it.
Franco Viteri, president of the Government of the Original Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (GONOAE – formerlyCONFENIAE), which represents the region’s seven tribes, said that while most Native leaders oppose drilling in the ITT block, GONOAE will respect the Waorani decision. He explained that whereas the Waorani and other tribes in northeastern Ecuador, where the oil industry has been active for decades, are focused on getting compensation for damages and use of their land, indigenous leaders in the central and southern Amazon are struggling to keep the oil companies out of their territory.
“We want to leave our children an inheritance of a healthy environment and clean water,” Viteri said.
Source: Indian Country
Cruel Bait and Switch: Correa to Allow Oil Drilling in Amazonian Park
Ecuador’s president announced August 15 that he would allow oil drilling in a fragile Amazonian park inhabited by nomadic tribes.
The decision, which threatens both the ecosystem and the indigenous Tagaeri and Taromenane people, ends a bold effort to convince the world’s industrialized countries to pay Ecuador not to drill for oil.
Indigenous leaders called for demonstrations on August 27 to protest the move.
TheIshpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini(ITT) oil block, located in Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon region, holds petroleum reserves estimated at 846 million barrels.
Those reserves lie under an area that is home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes, which maintain their traditional nomadic lifestyle and shun contact with the outside world, as well as other indigenous groups that are no longer isolated, including the Waorani.
That part of Ecuador’s rain forest is also one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, according to biologists who have studied it. Some of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on Earth.
Oil accounts for about half of Ecuador’s income earnings, and the oil in the ITT block is estimated to be worth $7.2 billion. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa had promised that if half that amount could be obtained by 2024, Ecuador would leave the ITT oil in the ground.
But observers said the plan was complicated by slow disbursement of pledges and an international financial slowdown that eventually unraveled it.
In April, Correa publicly expressed annoyance at the slow pace of donations from industrialized countries and other international donors and ordered a review of the Yasuní-ITT program by the end of July.
The decision to suspend the Yasuní initiative and liquidate the fund was made at aCabinet meeting on August 14.
Appearing before Ecuador’s legislature in July, Ivonne Baki, who heads the government’s Yasuní-ITT program, said the country had collected copy16 million and was awaiting the disbursement of another $220 million, for a total of about 10 percent of the target amount. She told Congress that the entire amount was not in the Treasury because donors had pledged to disburse the funds over time.
For months, although government officials insisted that their “Plan A” was to keep the oil in the ground, they also indicated that if the compensation scheme did not work, they would open the area to drilling.
The boundaries of some adjoining oil leases were recently redrawn in a way that would make it easier to build a pipeline from the ITT field, according to Kevin Koenig of the non-profit Amazon Watch in Ecuador.
“I think the government is moving forward with prepping things for what could be eventual drilling plans,” Koenig said in early August, noting that Correa had a solid majority in the legislature that could make such a move easier.
The country is also going ahead with an auction of oil leases around Yasuní National Park near the border with Peru, although the July 16 bidding deadline was postponed until November.
New drilling operations in the area would increase pressure on the Tagaeri and Taromenane people whose territory includes the park, the ITT block and some other oil leases, Koenig said.
Members of one of those groups were involved in a violent confrontation with Waorani people earlier this year, the details of which Koenig said are still unclear.
According to James Anaya, U.N. special rapporteur for Indigenous People’s rights, two elderly Waorani people living in the Yasuní reserve were killed on March 5, reportedly by Taromenane people. In retaliation, a group of Waorani killed several Taromenane people in late March and kidnapped two Taromenane girls,according to a report by Anaya.
Anaya called for the Ecuadorian governmentto investigate the case thoroughly and for an “exhaustive examination of the causes of the conflict and the pressures that historically have affected Indigenous Peoples in these areas and caused their social and cultural destabilization.”
Even without drilling in the ITT block, Koenig said, noise from helicopters, other oil operations and road construction in the area is encroaching on the nomadic Tagaeri and Taromenane.
“With the pressure on the park and on these people, public policy is setting the stage for major conflict,” he said.
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.