In a move condemned as paving the way for an environmental disaster, the environment minister of Ecuador on Thursday authorized permits for oil exploration to begin within the Yasuní National Park, an area home to two indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation and an area some consider the most biodiverse place in the world.
Oil production in the area could happen as soon as 2016.
In August last year, Ecuador announced that it was abandoning its plan to use international funds to leave the oil in the ground in the preserve, citing a lack of necessary funds raised. Then in October the parliament gave the green light to drilling in the park.
That decision was followed by widespread criticism. "Yasuní is exceptionally rich in species and home to diverse cultures — including some living in voluntary isolation," stated Stuart Pimm of Duke University. "Its protection defends nature and peoples: destroying it would be a particular tragedy."
Yet as Ecuador offers up the Yasuní to potential oil spills, it is also condemning the oil contamination brought to another area of the Amazon.
"For the government to green-light one environmental disaster the day after it joins the world in condemning another is a cold, calculated move that insults our collective intelligence,” Adam Zuckerman, Environmental and Human Rights Campaigner at indigenous rights NGO Amazon Watch, stated to Common Dreams, referring to Chevron's contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the international day of action against the oil giant.
"In its announcement the government forgot to mention that it has already divided up 45% of Yasuní National Park into seven oil concessions. According to its own records, Ecuador's state oil company averages nearly an oil spill every week, and just one spill in the most biodiverse and culturally sensitive part of the Amazon would be tragic," Zuckerman stated.
Critics of the plan to drill in the biodiversity hotspot had spent months gathering signatures to put the issue — "Are you in favor of leaving oil in the ground in Block 43/Yasuní-ITT indefinitely?" — on a referendum. While they gathered 850,000 signatures, less than 360,00 were validated by Ecuadorian officials, leaving the petitioners without the number needed to force a referendum. Environmentalists and indigenous groups decried the signature purge as "fraud."