Saturday, December 14, 2019

Ecuadorian Oil

Ecuador's Yasuní National Park covers 10,000 square kilometers of primary rainforest on Ecuador’s eastern border with Peru. It is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet, with more than 200 species of mammals, 550 species of birds, 380 species of fish and more than 2,000 types of trees. Jaguars, tapirs and monkeys live in its dense undergrowth, while pink dolphins swim in its rivers. The park is also home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane, two fiercely independent tribes that have resisted all attempts to integrate them into modern life. 

Unfortunately for them, and for the environment, Yasuní sits on vast deposits of oil — up to 40 percent of Ecuador’s reserves. Even before Yasuní was declared a national park, Texaco had started drilling nearby. These days, state-owned Petroamazonas, Spain’s Repsol, Italy’s Agip and the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) are working in or around Yasuní.

In 2007, Ecuador’s government, led by then President Rafael Correa, came up with what seemed like an ingenious plan to protect the eastern reaches of the park, where there are three major oil deposits. Correa said Ecuador would leave the oil in the ground if the international community gave the country $3.6 billion to compensate it for lost revenue. Environmentalists applauded. Western governments hailed the plan as an enlightened way to curb global warming. Some pledged money to the project, known as the ITT Initiative after the names of the three deposits — Ishpingo, Tiputini and Tambococha.

Western donors wanted to know how their money would be used. Correa said that was Ecuador’s business, and by 2013 the project had collapsed.

“The ITT idea was brilliant in theory, but in practice it was never going to work,” reflects Enrique Morales, a representative of Pachakutik, an Ecuadorian indigenous movement. “The donors wanted the money put in a blind trust, but Correa always had other ideas.”

With the project dead, Correa gave the oil industry the green light to expand its operations in the park. In 2016, Petroamazonas started drilling in Tiputini, and the following year in Tambococha, in the heart of Yasuní.

Correa’s successor, Lenín Moreno, gave environmentalists hope of a reprieve. In a referendum, he asked Ecuadorians whether they wanted to expand the so-called untouchable zone of the park — where the Tagaeri and Taromenane live — while reducing the area that oil companies can exploit. Two-thirds of those who voted said yes. But since then, while expanding the protected area that has no oil, the government has approved plans for new drilling farther inside the park.

“It’s trickery and a farce,” says Belén Paez, executive director of the Pachamama Foundation, a Quito environmental organization, referring to Moreno’s presidential decree.

With Tiputini and Tambococha already producing oil, the environmental battleground has moved to the final deposit: Ishpingo.

“In many ways it’s the most important of the three,” says Carlos Larrea, an architect of the ITT Initiative and head of the climate change and sustainability program at the Simón Bolívar Andean University in Quito. “It’s the largest, containing around half of all the oil in the ITT, and it’s also the southernmost and therefore the most sensitive, because it encroaches on the untouchable zone and the buffer zone around it.”

Petroamazonas,  by far the largest oil producer in Ecuador, accounts for about 80 percent of national output. About a quarter of that comes from within the Yasuní park.

No comments: