The Ecuadoran Amazon: Drilling for oil in the rainforest
“Climate change has been produced principally by the rich countries,” he has said, “and they have a duty to take responsibility for that. What we are proposing is a constructive way to redress the imbalance and stop further polluting of the planet.”
–President of Ecuador Rafael Correa (source: London Times)
Just the thought of an oilfield that is also a rainforest instantly conjures a multitude of problems: deforestation, toxic spills, economic upheaval and violation of indigenous land rights – not to mention the emissions. All this is happening in the Ecuadoran Amazon and with violent, deadly consequences for local inhabitants – both oil workers and native tribes alike. As with many situations involving the more remote and untouched areas of the globe, there is a pronounced lack of rule of law. Money, guns and fear carry far more weight in the wilds and guess who controls them? The oil companies, of course.
A contaminated section of the Amazon in Ecuador known as the ‘Rainforest Chernobyl’ has faced these problems since the 1960s. A November 29th article from the London Times suggests that irresponsible drilling here and in other areas of Ecuador has poisoned drinking water, put an end to agriculture, and resulted in skin, bone, respiratory and digestive illnesses as well as high rates of cancer and miscarriage. But at least foreign oil companies like Texaco, Chevron, Repsol and Petro Oriental have prospered. The Ecuadoran state-owned Petroecuador has been similarly unscrupulous in their dealings with local people and complicit in rainforest destruction.
‘Last year a team of engineers, doctors and biologists submitted a court-ordered report, which concluded that Texaco had polluted streams and drinking water across an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, and caused 2,091 cases of cancer, leading to 1,401 deaths between 1985 and 1998. Chevron’s lawyers say the area’s health problems are caused only by poverty and poor sanitation.’
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa may be right about which countries have overwhelmingly contributed the most to climate change, but that does not excuse or solve the pollution in his own land, the lack of rule of law in the Amazon and the bloody violence taking place there now. It is also Ecuador that will suffer most if this situation is allowed to continue. His plan for rainforest protection has so far only received international support from Germany. It is a model along the lines of the concept of ‘ecological debt’, in which rainforests would be preserved in exchange for foreign monetary compensation for lost oil revenues. But will Ecuador be able to enforce such a policy?
Read the entire Times article here.
View the Ecuadorian Government’s Yasuni-ITT presentation:
By Graham Land
World Resources Institute – Ecuador Proposes Leaving Oil Untapped to Protect Forests and People
Institute for Policy Studies – Towards a Global Climate Fund