Designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997, the threatened park consists of 930,000 hectares of primary tropical and Andean forest and an immense amount of biodiversity.
Thanks to Derek Wall of the Green Left (Britain) for drawing this appeal to our attention.
The Canandian oil company Ivanhoe Energy obtained a concession from the Ecuadorian government for an oil exploitation project in Block 20, which lies in the UNESCO Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, in the Ecuadorian province of Napo. It is projected that the project will extract between 4.5 and 7 million barrels of petroleum from 30 or more wells. The project has not been sufficiently studied and we worry that it will have major social and environmental impacts.
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The Ecuadorian government has been a pioneer in developing alternatives to oil exploitation through its “Leave Crude Below Underground” project in Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This project was established to protect the national park from petroleum exploitation and to obtain compensation from the international community for the effort to conserve the biodiversity and indigenous groups that inhabit the zone.
But areas of comparable biological value are being concessioned out to multinational petroleum companies not far from Yasuní. In the search for revenue, the national government has concessioned Block 20, also known as Pungarayacu, for the extraction of heavy crude. The Pungarayacu oil field is 146,000 hectares of terrain that includes populated and protected zones such as the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve.
Sumaco Biosphere Reserve extends between the counties of Arosemena Tola to the south, passing the cities of Archidona and Tena to the east near the beginning of the Napo River until the city of Coca (in Orellana Province), and it includes water sources such as the Napo and Coca Rivers. Designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997, the national park consists of 930,000 hectares of primary tropical and Andean forest and an immense amount of biodiversity. There are other protected forests in the province such as the Antisana and Llanganates Reserves. Every year, the area attracts thousands of tourists who want to enjoy its lush diversity. We fear that the petroleum project will seriously damage the local eco-tourism industry, an important source of jobs.
The country’s constitution has strict laws about the process of citizen participation in extractive projects, and is also the first in the world to give the environment equal rights with humans. However, Ivanhoe Energy is not complying with these laws. They are advancing their operations through deceit and are dividing indigenous communities and community leaders.
This lack of cooperation has been manifested in a failure to previously consult communities about the project. The government initiated negotiations with Ivanhoe without consulting indigenous communities and those who will be affected by the project, thereby ignoring their constitutional rights. In May 2009, the Kichwa community of Rukullacta published a denouncement of the law-violation. The government continues to ignore various denouncements and legal demands put out by various social sectors against the project.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), completed in only six months, is superficial and inadequate in terms of covering the risks of the project. The study contains conclusions and contradictions that are not justified. For example, water sources, which are hugely important in a tropical rainforest, are largely at risk because of the project. The EIA rates the sensitivity of areas with sources of water, concluding that the risk of contamination is irrelevant or moderate without giving justification for this conclusion.
Regarding the publication of the study, the public was given only three weeks to comment on the study, a period that coincided with the national elections, which logically absorbed the public’s attention.
The petroleum company does not have sufficient capitol to execute the project, not to mention the funds to implement the necessary precautions to minimize spills and contamination or for environmental remediation. In addition, the EIA does not consider surrounding areas that will be affected, roads that will have to be constructed, or the destruction of primary forest.
Furthermore, Ivanhoe Energy is applying the habitual strategy of negotiation with some leaders and members of the communities, compromising them with the promise of jobs, rather than leaving sectional governments to discuss compensation with the communities, as the law demands. With this approach, they are entering communities without gaining their consent.