Oil multinationals threaten Amazon rainforest with drilling
Rainforest Action Network
March 2002

Ignoring the devastating toll thirty years of reckless oil development has taken on the country of Ecuador--particularly on the Amazon and its people--the government and a consortium of multinational oil companies are poised to make the same irreversible mistake by moving ahead with a controversial new oil pipeline project known as the OCP. The pipeline would transport heavy crude from the country's eastern rainforest to the Pacific Coast, placing fragile ecosystems and dozens of communities along the 300-mile route in jeopardy.

The pipeline route chosen by the OCP consortium affects 11 protected areas, and cuts through the middle of the Mindo Nambillo Cloudforest Reserve and the surrounding ecologically sensitive forests. This area is home to more than 450 species of birds-46 of which are threatened by extinction-and has been designated the first "Important Bird Area" of South America by Birdlife International.

In order to fill the new pipeline, Ecuador would have to double its current oil production, setting off an unprecedented boom in new oil exploration throughout the country's last remaining old growth rainforest and territories of isolated indigenous peoples. Hundreds of new oil wells and flow lines would need to be built along with facilities necessary to process and refine the heavy crude for transport across the country. The areas targeted in the search for new drilling sites include protected rainforests in Yasuni National Park, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Limoncocha and Paoacocha Biological Reserves, as well as 6 million acres (1000 square miles) of frontier forest, the majority of which falls on the ancestral territories of Achuar, Shuar, Huaorani, Quichua, Shiwiar, and Zapara indigenous communities.

The OCP was officially approved by the Ecuador government on June 7, 2001. Since then, the world's oil companies have been scambling for financing and their piece of the pie. The success of the OCP depends on future oil strikes in the rainforest, and there is uncertainty as to how much oil even exists in El Oriente. Financial backers need to take a closer look at the risks involved. Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many other international and Ecuadorian environmental and human rights organizations are calling for the cancellation of the OCP project and a moratorium on all new oil exploration in the country's Amazon region.

The benefits of energy conservation and intact forest preservation far outweigh those of short-term oil profits, which in 30 years of lucrative oil drilling have never helped the living standards of the average Ecuadorian. The forest roads will spell doom for the region's wildlife, and once the door is open, oil companies cannot be relied on to maintain any protection in the uncertain future. In short, the completion of OCP will be the beginning of the end for the western Amazon. Some of these doubts are starting to be heard. In January, 2002, Rainforest Action Network announced that one oil company was selling its share in the project, and the World Bank (which is not financing or supporting the project) has questioned the environmental impacts.

None of this has fazed the Ecuadorian government's enthusiasm for the project. Given Ecuador's history of corruption and cooperation with multi-national corporations, there is a common feeling that, if the oil fields show economic promise, only international pressure will be able to stop the momentum. Indeed, in May 2001, Ecuadorean President Gustavo Noboa, in response to OCP opposition, vowed, "I'll give them war."

In the Amazon town of Lago Agrio, the starting point of the OCP, local residents and municipal officials have not given authorization for the pipeline's passage. A key area of contention is the Amazon Refinery Station, which is slated to be built on the edge of town. Community members have physically blockaded tracks and other equipment from leaving the storage area. In Quito, Mindo residents occupied the offices of two political parties who hold the majority on the city council. The pipeline route will pass through the southern city limits in close proximity to Quito's water.

Ecuador's oil exports are primarily destined for consumption in the United States, particularly in California. Not only does this pipeline threaten fragile areas and local communities, it further increases our reliance on oil-the main fossil fuel responsible for climate change. We must call on the involved financial institutions to stop bankrolling destruction of the Amazon and environmental injustice and urge them to invest in renewable energy alternatives not Amazon crude! (For cites and current updates, go to Rainforest Action Network's web page, at www.ran.org.)

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