The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Oil Production Begins at Controversial Amazon Drilling Project

First Barrels of Amazon Crude from Ecuador's ITT Oil Fields in Yasuní National Park Likely Destined for United States

Tomorrow, Ecuadorian state oil company Petroamazonas will produce the first barrel of commercial crude from the ITT (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini) fields that lie beneath Yasuni National Park, an area that some scientists have called the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth. Much of the oil will likely be processed in California, which refined 60% of Ecuador's oil exports in 2015.

Part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Yasuni has more species of trees in a single hectare than all of the US and Canada combined and has more species per hectare of birds, amphibians, mammals, shrubs, and insects than anywhere else in the world.

Yasuni is also home to Ecuador's last indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. The nomadic Tagaeri-Taromenane are now virtually surrounded with active or planned oil drilling on all sides of their traditional territory, threatening their very existence.

The production at the Tiputini C well site is the first of approximately 276 planned wells, ten drilling platforms, and multiple related pipelines and production facilities. Recently, Ecuador nearly doubled its estimates of the ITT block's reserves, although even this amount is equal to merely seventeen days of global oil consumption.

"This is the worst imaginable place to be drilling for oil. The world can simply not afford to lose a place like Yasuni," said Kevin Koenig, Ecuador Program Director at Amazon Watch. "At a time when scientists affirm we need to keep more than eighty per cent of all crude reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, this is the last place on Earth they should be drilling. Many species in Yasuni survived the last ice age. Whether they survive the oil age remains to be seen."

The drilling comes after President Rafael Correa abandoned an innovative proposal to keep the oil from the three ITT fields permanently in the ground in exchange for international contributions totaling half its projected forgone revenue. The initiative, known as Yasuni-ITT, failed to raise the necessary funds as northern Annex 1 countries balked at contributing to keeping fossil fuels in the ground - a strategy that is now a scientific imperative if the world is to meet its declared goal of avoiding a 2degC rise in temperature. Ecuador also failed to convince donor countries by opening up new Amazonian areas for drilling. This "leakage" of any net CO2 emissions reduction along with inadequate political and financial guarantees sunk the initiative.

But the proposal was widely popular with Ecuadorians, with polling at one point showing 93% of the population in favor of keeping the ITT oil in the ground. Yasunidos, a national grassroots collective, collected over 600,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote on Yasuni drilling plans. But, in a process tainted by allegations of fraud and corruption, the government threw out more than half of the signatures, leaving Yasunidos short of the referendum threshold. Outrage and protests ensued and were met with violent repression.

"We are saddened that Correa has blocked the dream of creating the post-petroleum Ecuador that we want and need," said Esperanza Martinez, President of Accion Ecologica and a founder of the Oilwatch Network. We have done everything we can to save Yasuni and we will continue to do so to keep oil drilling from expanding inside the Park and force a referendum vote on further drilling."

Petroamazonas has pledged to use "state of the art" roadless technology to drill, but aerial photographs have shown the company building a secret oil access road into Yasuni National Park. The state-run company has been responsible for a series of spills in recent years, including one in 2014 that turned the Aguarico River black with crude and affected indigenous communities all the way to the Peruvian border. Oil spills are rampant in Ecuador's Amazon. Between 2000 and 2010, Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment reported an oil spill nearly every week. Civil society puts the number at two to three times that many.

The Ecuadorian government has also turned a blind eye to its own constitution, which affords special protection to the Tagaeri-Taromenane, declaring extractive activities "shall be forbidden" in territories of isolated indigenous peoples and constitute ethnocide. Both groups are also subject of "precautionary measures" handed down by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States which oblige the state to protect people facing imminent risk. When shopping the Yasuni proposal to prospective donors, the government claimed both nomadic Waorani clans were present in the area above the ITT fields, but newer government maps purport to show that they have conveniently migrated.

California refineries, the largest purchasers of crude from the Ecuadorian Amazon, would be at least partially responsible for the ensuing environmental destruction, rights violations, and possible ethnocide if they continue to process oil from the Amazon.

"We Californians will not be complicit in the ethnocide of isolated indigenous peoples and the destruction of the rainforest," said Adam Zuckerman, Amazon Watch's Amazon Crude Campaign Manager. "We will demand that our refineries stop processing Amazon crude."

Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.