Oil and gas projects in western Amazon threaten biodiversity and indigenous peoples

Aug 13, 2008

The western Amazon, home to the most biodiverse and intact rainforest left on Earth, may soon be covered with oil rigs and pipelines.

According to a new study, over 180 oil and gas "blocks" – areas zoned for exploration and development – now cover the megadiverse western Amazon, which includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Brazil. These oil and gas blocks stretch over 688,000 km2 (170 million acres), a vast area, nearly the size of Texas. The study appears in the August 13 edition of the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

For over three years, researchers from two U.S. non-profit organizations – Save America's Forests and Land Is Life – and scientists from Duke University tracked hydrocarbon activities across the region and generated a comprehensive map of oil and gas activities across the western Amazon. The result is an alarming assessment of the threats to the biodiversity and indigenous peoples of the region.

"We found that the oil and gas blocks overlap perfectly with the most biodiverse part of the Amazon for birds, mammals, and amphibians," said study co-author Dr. Clinton Jenkins of Duke University. "The threat to amphibians is of particular concern because they are already the most threatened group of vertebrates worldwide."

The study also found that the oil and gas blocks are concentrated in the most intact part of the Amazon. Even national parks are not immune; exploration and development blocks cover the renowned Yasuní National Park in Ecuador and Madidi National Park in Bolivia.

"The most dynamic situation is unfolding in the Peruvian Amazon," warned lead author Dr. Matt Finer of Save America's Forests.

The study reports that 64 oil and gas blocks cover approximately 72% of the vast Peruvian Amazon (~490,000 km2 or ~121 million acres), an area much larger than California. All but eight of these blocks have appeared since 2003, when Peru launched a major effort to boost exploration across the Amazon. National parks are off limits to hydrocarbon activities in Peru, but oil and gas blocks do overlap a variety of other types of protected areas.

Many of the oil and gas blocks in the western Amazon overlap titled lands of indigenous peoples and encroach on the territories of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. These isolated peoples have chosen to live in the forests without contact with the outside world. They are extremely susceptible to outside illnesses due to lack of natural resistance.

In the second part of the study, the researchers delve into the most cutting policy issues related to oil and gas activities in the Amazon.

The authors highlighted new access roads as the greatest single threat from hydrocarbon development. Roads trigger deforestation, colonization, overhunting, and illegal logging in previously remote areas.

"The elimination of new oil access roads could significantly reduce the impacts of most projects," said Finer, echoing one of the studies' main conclusions.

The analysis points out that the current environmental assessment process is inadequate due to a lack of independence in the review process and a lack of comprehensive analyses of the long-term, cumulative, and synergistic impacts of multiple oil and gas projects across the wider region. The authors stress the need for regional Strategic Environmental Assessments in order to correct this situation.

The study also addresses the complex policy issues related to indigenous peoples.

"The way that oil development is being pursued in the Western Amazon is a gross violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the region" said Brian Keane of Land is Life, "International agreements and Inter-American human rights law recognize that indigenous peoples have rights to their lands, and explicitly prohibit the granting of concessions to exploit natural resources in their territories without their free, prior and informed consent."

The authors also detail the growing conflict of hydrocarbon activities slated for the territories of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation.

Finally, the study highlights the role of the international community. Growing global energy demand is driving the search for more oil and gas in the Amazon and companies from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and China are carrying out most of the development.

"Filling up with a tank of gas could soon have devastating consequences to rainforests, their peoples, and their species" remarked co-author Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University.

Ecuador's innovative Yasuní-ITT Initiative is held up as a potentially precedent-setting example of how the global north and south can collaborate on both protecting the Amazon and combating climate change. The initiative is the Government of Ecuador's limited-time offer to keep its largest untapped oilfields unexploited in exchange for financial compensation from the international community.

Citation: Finer M, Jenkins CN, Pimm SL, Keane B, Ross C (2008) Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to Wilderness, Biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples. PLoS ONE 3(8): e2932. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002932 dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0002932

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Panel calls for protecting world's largest forest

Aug 02, 2013

At least half of Canada's 1.4 billion acre boreal forest, the largest remaining intact wilderness on Earth, must be protected to maintain the area's current wildlife and ecological systems, according to a ...

Land locked (w/ Video)

Aug 14, 2012

A world-first project led by ANU researchers is looking at whether pristine rainforest can be preserved from oil extraction, writes SARINA TALIP.

Oil palm surging source of greenhouse gas emissions

Apr 26, 2012

Continued expansion of industrial-scale oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo will become a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 unless strong forest and peatland protections are enacted and enforced, ...

Leave isolated Amazon natives alone, Peru says

Jan 31, 2012

Peruvian officials on Tuesday urged outsiders to stay away from isolated Amazon basin rainforest natives after pictures of "uncontacted" tribe members were published online.

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

22 hours ago

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rontavius
not rated yet Sep 21, 2008
For those wanting to learn more, the authors of the scientific study described here now have a website devoted to the western Amazon.

http://westernamazon.org

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...