18 October 2007

Two Sides of Oil clash in Ecuador

First the bad times. Part of the precious rainforest in Ecuador has been declared one of the 30 most polluted places on the entire earth. Here is an extract from the 2007 Blacksmith Institute Report providing details:

"Oriente, Ecuador
Potentially Affected People: 30,000

Type of Pollutant: Oil and toxic waste
Source of Pollution: Oil exploration

The Problem: From 1964 to 1992, Texaco (now Chevron) built and operated oil exploration and production facilities in the northern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, known as the
"Oriente". After three decades of activity, the company left behind 600 open waste pits and allegedly dumped 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador's rainforest. Crude oil dumped in open waterways is allegedly some 30 times worse
than the Exxon Valdez spill.

This toxic dumping is reported to affect not only an indigenous population of 30,000 people but also 2.5 million acres of rain forest.

Health Impacts: Increased cancer incidence, reproductive problems and birth defects are the major health effects. Water used by local residents for drinking and bathing contains nearly 150 times the safe exposure levels to hydrocarbons.

Status of Clean-Up Activity: Texaco is facing a billion dollar legal battle for polluting significant portions of the Ecuadorean Amazon. The company has vehemently denied the accusations and insisted that local authorities have absolved it of any guilt."

The other side of oil reared an unexpected and most welcome head a few days ago when President Rafael Correa made a major announcement about oil exploration in the Yasuni National Park, the most precious and important reserve in the country. Here is a public service announcement narrated by Martin Sheen I recommend watching. Here is an extract of the People & Planet article:

"Ecuador promises to leave biggest oilfield untouched

In an unprecedented initiative, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has told the UN summit on climate change, now meeting in New York, that his country proposes to leave its largest oil reserve untouched and avoid all oil extraction activities in the Yasuni National Park, where it is located.

Though not an entirely new idea, he presented the Yasuní-ITT Initiative to world leaders today as a contribution to the reduction of global greenhouse gases and to initiate Ecuador’s transition toward the world’s first truly sustainable economy.

A key part of this initiative is to avoid oil extraction activities in Yasuni National Park, home to at least two indigenous tribes that live in voluntary isolation and one of the most biodiverse places on earth.

Ecuador proposes to leave the nearly one billion barrel ITT oilfield unexploited in order to preserve Yasuni’s astounding biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the cultural integrity of its indigenous inhabitants.

Ecuador says it is proposing to forgo the revenue from oil production because it believes the value of avoiding climate change and deforestation is of greater value to Ecuador and the planet as a whole.

Ecuador, whose historic carbon dioxide emissions amount to less than 0.5 per cent, has now offered to keep nearly 436 million tons of carbon dioxide permanently sequestered in the ground, as a voluntary contribtiung to global climate change mitigation.

Commentators point out that it is the first time that a country dependent on oil exports for one third of its income has proposed forgoing oil extraction to support global sustainability objectives, and while inviting the world to help Ecuador achieve its goal of transitioning toward a new green economy."

First I really hope Mr. Correa survives what is surely coming his way after such a bold stand against big oil. Second, I would really like to believe that Mr. Correa is sincere in his desire to steward such a vital resource for life. Stewardship normally happens, however, as compensation efforts by transnational corporations or piecemeal agreements to appease affected populations. And it almost never happens at the expense of unexplored oil fields. This kind of sacrifice would put Ecuador on the map, and for good reason this time.


Oil pictures taken from: http://www.chevrontoxico.com/index.php
Pictures of Yasuni National Park taken from: http://www.ecuador-travel.net/biodiversity.parks.yasuni.htm