Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Yasuní National Park: between exploitation and conservation

Dialogo Chino 24.03.2022 Allen Panchana e Richard Jiménez Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador supports efforts to protect the Yasuní National Park, a symbolic portion of the Amazon, but Guillermo Lasso’s government does not stop oil operations in the area.

In the bowels of Yasuní is the Ecuador’s largest oil reserve: more than 1,672 million barrels crude oil, which makes it the largest project of oil exploitation in the history of this Latin American country. However, the surroundings of this resource are a protected natural area. Oil Block 43 called ITT (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), has an area of ​​almost 2000 hectares, 100 of them within the Yasuní National Park, designated by UNESCO in 1989 as a biosphere reserve, a symbol for Ecuador and the world.

Studies estimate that in there are 150 species of amphibians, about 600 of birds, and more than 3,000 of flora, making it one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. There also lives in symbiosis of the forest an indigenous population in voluntary isolation and that needs to be protected.

For this reason, since the end of the 1990s, different legal mechanisms have been promoted seeking the conservation of this Amazonian portion. Ecuador, however, for a long time has been living with a dilemma: to preserve this unique space in the world or to exploit its hydrocarbons so as to cover its multimillion-dollar fiscal deficit, which as of February 2022 amounted to $ 3.7 billion.

The 43-ITT dangers

On March 6, 2020, the state-owned Petroamazonas EP (which later merged with Petroecuador), awarded a contract to provide an "integrated specific services" to drill and complete 24 new wells in Block 43 within the Yasuní ITT, in the Orellana province.

The $148 million contract was awarded to China's Chuanqing Drilling Engineering Company Ld. The new wells would increase production by around 7,500 barrels per day, according to what Petroecuador published at the time. As part of the works attached to the new wells, since February 2020 a road construction began to connect the different exploitation platforms. The following month, satellite images from the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP in its Spanish acronym) detected the construction of this highway leaving the Tambococha B platform towards the Tambococha C, Ishpingo A and B platforms, insofar putting at risk the territory conservation.

Almost two years later, in January 2022, MAAP warned that the expansion of the road would reach a spot only 300 meters from the Intangible Zone of the Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous people.

"In this report, based on updated satellite images, we show the recent construction of the Ishpingo B platform, which is located just 300m from the buffer zone of the Intangible Zone," says the report published on the MAAP website.

Petroecuador responds

After two months of requests, Petroecuador responded in writing to the Diálogo Chino newspaper about this report, claiming that it complies with the environmental parameters: “All the accesses built in Block 43 are part of the Environment’s Ministry authorizations […]. Prior of starting the accesses construction activities, a detailed environmental topography is carried out. A multidisciplinary team (biologists, environmentalists, builders, and technicians) participates to identify biologically sensitive areas, such as saltpans, feeders, waterers, nesting areas, ecological corridors, and important trees. Once identified, they are preserved.”

According to Petroecuador, the aim is to "preserve the natural ecosystem balance, reducing the ecological fragmentation effects and prioritizing the tree and terrestrial species normal development". In addition, there is "monitoring of the physical conditions of water bodies, air quality, sound pressure levels and emissions into the atmosphere.”

Regarding the award to the Chinese company, Petroecuador clarifies that “the tender was carried out through a Contest of Offers with bases previously established, reviewed and approved by the competent authorities. The Chuanquing Drilling Engineering Company Ld. was awarded because it complied with the technical requirements described in the bidding rules and presented a lower economic offer in relation to the one presented by the Sinopec company (also Chinese)”.

Lasso favors extraction

Oil exploration and exploitation are important for the Ecuador government, which needs to reschedule the debt it owes to China for more than 5,000 billion dollars. Part of the production still in the way, has already been sold to China. Thus, with just two months in government, President Guillermo Lasso issued in July 2021, a new hydrocarbons policy - Executive Act 95 - to increase oil production.

“There are old oil fields that need to be made more productive and new fields to be done. […] The challenge is to increase production by approximately 8% per day. In other words, raising it by about 40,000 barrels more a day,” he said in an interview.

In the last week of February 2022, the Minister of Energy, Juan Carlos Bermeo, reported that the government awarded the first contract for the wells drilling in the Ishpingo oil field, near Yasuní, to the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). "We have a lot of hope regarding the Ishpingo field," said the minister. The first drilling campaign in this sensitive area will involve 40 wells, up the end of 2023.

Ishpingo is the most recent part of the promising ITT oil field in the Ecuador’s Amazon region […]. "It is expected to produce heavy oil, which will be added to the national production of Napo crude," explained Bermeo, despite the complaints about the works carried out on this lot.

Lawsuits against the State

The National Park covers an area of ​​almost 10,000 square kilometers, larger than Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Lima, São Paulo, Bogotá, La Paz, Quito, and Caracas combined. Moreover, the pressures to exploit its subsoil are increasing.

For several decades, national and foreign environmental organizations have made different demands to prevent the advance of oil exploitation in the Amazon jungle, due to the continuous legal reforms opening up ways to the crude oil extraction.

Yasuní became the subject of world interest in 2007, when the then-president Rafael Correa launched a seemingly innovative plan to attract more than $3 billion in donations from the international community in exchange for keeping the park's oil in the ground.

The plan collapsed 5 years later, allegedly due to a lack of sufficient commitment to the initiative. Drilling began in 2016.

The last request for legal protection for the park occurred in September 2021. The Alianza de Organizaciones por los Derechos Humanos - Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights - made up of several environmental NGOs, presented a request for precautionary measures against the Ecuadorian State to prevent the roads construction and the oil platforms entry within the buffer strip of the Yasuní ITT Block 43. The colectivo Geografía Crítica, which defends the territory, collective rights and nature in Ecuador, filed a legal action to prevent this exploitation.

Manuel Bayón, a representative of the organization, in an interview with Diálogo Chino, said, “We have promoted different precautionary measures” since 2010. The most recent is that of September 2021, due to “the imminent impact on indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation”, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.

Pedro Bermeo, from the colectivo Acción Ecológica, affirms: “We have warned about the entry of workers with machinery into the buffer zone. The limits were arbitrarily moved to build the highway, as well as the implementation of oil installations. Unfortunately, whatever happens, the environmental damage is already done."

Historic ruling against exploitation

Article 71 of the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution establishes the rights of nature, or Pacha Mama, "so that its existence, maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes are fully respected." However, as has been shown, this has not stopped the actions for the crude oil extraction.

After years of struggle, on February 3, 2022, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador prohibited the execution of oil works in the Yasuní buffer zone […]. The Constitutional Court in its ruling recalled, "No legal norm may restrict the content of rights or constitutional guarantees." Pedro Bermeo affirms, “Despite the fact that the damage has been done, a little justice has been reached for the isolated Indigenous peoples of Yasuní” […].

“The Government of Ecuador sees in our territory only the interests of resources. We demand respect for our decision to keep our territories free of oil and mining. There is no real development policy for the Amazon,” said Nemonte Nenquimo, a Waorani leader and president of the Conconawep organization.

Despite the Court's ruling and the various efforts to protect Yasuní, work in this corner of the Amazon has not stopped. In this sense, the indigenous populations, as well as various organizations, expect the State and related companies to put conservation ahead of exploitation.

See Yasuní: un parque nacional entre la explotación y la conservación

Leave a comment

The comments from our readers (2)

Paul Attard 01.06.2022 Sad. Yet another example of Chinese policy; making money & to hell with the environment.
Margaret Henderson 17.07.2022 How depressing, too, that it doesn’t seem possible to protect Yasuni National Park and its people!