Oil, Gas Drilling on the Rise in Ecuador, Peru; Indigenous Communities Share Concerns

From Indian Country

By Barbara Fraser

Tensions over oil and gas drilling on or near indigenous territories in the Amazon have flared again as Ecuador seeks bidders for oil leases and a company in Peru expands its operations into an area inhabited by nomadic groups that shun contact with the outside world.

Ecuador’s launch of an oil lease auction – known as the “11th round” – on November 29 drew protests from two of the country’s main indigenous organizations.

“Forty years of petroleum production have left nothing but poverty, environmental devastation, disease and genocide,” Humberto Cholango, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de Ecuador, CONAIE), said in a statement.

Representatives of Amazonian indigenous groups demonstrated outside the hotel where the auction was being kicked off and pledged to continue their protest.

The government plans to open up 16 lots for exploration and drilling. The government is seeking bids from international companies for 13 lots, while the other three are to be operated by the state-run oil company. President Rafael Correa said that between $5 million and $15 million per lot would be used to provide services to indigenous communities living near the drilling operations.

But Kevin Koenig of the non-profit advocacy organization Amazon Watch questioned whether the 2 billion barrels of oil estimated to be in the lots justify the possible harm to indigenous communities and damage to the environment.

“To open up 10 million acres for such low estimates of crude makes little economic sense,” he said.

Oil exports represent about half all export earnings for Ecuador, which produces about 500,700 barrels a day.

Several of the areas being auctioned are near the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) lot, which overlaps Yasuní National Park and contains a large deposit that the government has pledged not to develop if the international community compensates it with $3.6 billion – half the amount it would lose in revenue – over the next 12 years.

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