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with roads and settlements, especially in the Calha Norte Pro­ gramme.15 Yet another source of forest loss is hydroelectric de­ velopment, plans for which imply flooding two per cent of Brazil's Legal Amazon.16

Addressing the Root Causes

It is clear the range of problems that need to be solved to slow deforestation in the Amazon is enormous. Brazil must face all of these problems both present and future i f destruction of the Amazon forest is to be avoided. Root causes of deforestation must be addressed, rather than restricting action to the more superficial symptoms.

Very little now stands in the way of massive increases in de­ forestation. Limited amounts of capital, especially in Brazil's current economic crisis, can temporarily slow the rate at which deforesters are able to realize their plans, but the deforestation process wil l run to completion unless fundamental changes are made in the structure of the system underlying clearing.

Many events in the process of Amazonian deforestation are beyond government control. Decrees prohibiting deforestation, such as Law 7511 of 7 July 1986, have minimal effect on land clearing decisions made by farmers or ranchers living many ki ­ lometres from major roads and cities, and spread over a region as vast as Amazonia. Some key points in the system, however, are subject to government control. The granting of land titles, with its associated criteria of land 'improvement' through de­ forestation, is entirely a government activity. The government is also responsible for the programmes granting special loans and tax incentives for agriculture and cattle ranching activities. Above all, only the government builds highways. Were the gov­ ernment to build and improve fewer highways in Amazonia, the vicious cycle of highway construction, population immigration, and deforestation would be broken.

Current deforestation rates indicate that such changes must be made without delay. In the face of such a daunting array of prob­ lems, paralysis is frequent: either accepting destruction as ine­ vitable, or considering as useless any action less extreme than a complete restructuring of society. Paralysis, whatever its ration­ alization, is the most certain path to a future without an Amazon forest.

Acknowledgements My research in Rondonia is funded by the Science and Technology Component of Projeto POLONOROESTE. J. G. Gunn, A. Setzer and S. Wilson provided useful comments on the manuscript. I thank the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciencia (SBPC) for permission to use portions of the text translated from Ciencia Hoje.

This is an edited version of a paper to appear in G. M. Woodwell (Ed.), The Earth in Transition: Patterns and Processes ofBiotic Impoverish­ ment, Cambridge University Press, New York.


1. Setzer, A.W., Pereira, M.C., Pereira, A.C. Junior and Almeida, S.A.O., Relatorio de Atividades do Projeto IBDF-INPE 'SEQE' —Ano 1987, Instituto de Pesquisa Espaciais (INPE), Pub. No. INPE-4534-RPE/565, INPE, Sao Jose dos Campos-Sao Paulo, 1988. 2. Mahar, D.J., Government Policies and Deforestation in Brazils Amazon Region, Environment Department Working Paper No. 7, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1988. 3. Veja (Sao Paulo), 'A Fronteira do Futuro', Advertisement from the Gov­


ernment of Roraima, 13 April 1983. 4. Fearnside, P.M., 'The Development of the Amazon Rain Forest: Priority Problems for the Formulation of Guidelines', Interciencia 4, 6, 1979, 338-343. 5. F. Campano, statement at the Interciencia Association Symposium on Amazonia, Belem, October 1983. 6. Fearnside, P.M., 'Rethinking Continuous Cultivation in Amazonia', BioScience 37,3, 1987,209-214. 7. For a review of environmental impacts of deforestation, see Fearnside, P.M., 'Environmental Change and Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon', in J. Hemming (ed.), Change in the Amazon Basin: Man s Impact on Forests and Ri­ vers, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1985. 8. Fearnside, P.M., 'Forest Management in Amazonia: The Need for New Criteria in Evaluating Economic Development Options', Forest Ecology and Management26, 1989. 9. Clark, C.W., 'The Economics of Overexploitation', Science 181, 1973, 630-634; Clark, C.W.,' Mathematical Bioeconomics: The Optimal Management, of Renewable Resources, Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1976; Fife, D., 'Kill ­ ing the Goose', Environment 13, 3, 1971, 20-27. 10. Fearnside, P.M., Human Carrying Capacity of the Brazilian Rainforest, Columbia University Press, New York, 1986. 11. Myers, N., Conversion of Tropical Moist Forests, National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington, D.C., 1980; Myers, N., 'The Present Status and Fu­ ture Prospects of Tropical Moist Forests', Environmental Conservation 1, 2, 1980, 101-114; Ranjitsinh, M.K., 'Forest Destruction in Asia and the South Pa­ cific', Ambio 8, 5, 1979, 192-201. 12. Fearnside, P.M. and Rankin, J.M., 'Jari and Carajas: The Uncertain Fu­ ture of Large Silvicultural Plantations in the Amazon', Interciencia 7, 6, 1982, 326-328. 13. Fearnside, P.M., 'Agricultural Plans for Brazil's Grande Carajas Pro­ gram: Lost Opportunity for Sustainable Development?', World Development 14, 3, 1986, 385-409. 14. Fearnside, P.M., 'Deforestation and International Economic Develop­ ment Projects in Brazilian Amazonia', Conservation Biology 1, 3, 1987, 214221. 15. Fearnside, P.M., 'Environmental Destruction in the Brazilian Amazon', in A. Hall and D. Goodman (eds.), The Future of Amazonia: Destruction or Sus­ tainable Development, Macmillan, London, 1989 (in press). 16. Brazil, Ministerio das Minas e Energia, ELETROBRAS, Piano Natio­ nal de Energia Eletrica 1987/2010: Piano 2010: Relatorio Geral (Dezembro 1987), Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras S.A. (ELETROBRAS), Rio de Janeiro, 1987.

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The Ecologist, Vol. 19, No. 6, November/December 1989 Transnational and Oil in Amazonia


Koy Thomson and Nigel Dudley

Transnational corporations (TNCs) are active in agribusiness, mining, infrastructural development, banking, timber and almost every other major sector of the economies of

the Amazonian countries. Whilst the impact of these activities has received wide coverage, less attention has been paid to the environmental and social destruction being

caused by oil exploitation.

During the 1980s, oil concessions have been granted throughout Amazonia, set­ ting in place a process of destruction be­ ginning with exploration and ending in extraction. In September 1988, Occidental Petroleum Company reached an agree­ ment with the Government of Peru to in­ crease its production from rainforest areas by 20,000 barrels a day. It currently has at least 30 wells in the rainforests, and plans 24 more.1 In Colombia, Amoco have agreed a three year technical evaluation programme with Ecopetrol for an area of 74 million acres of rainforest in the south­ east of the country. Texaco have acquired rights in four areas of Colombian rain­ forest. In Ecuador, Texaco, Gulf, Conoco, Shell, British Petroleum and Esso Hispanol are all involved in exploration.

Direct destruction is caused by numer­ ous activities including clearance for seis­ mic lines, access for exploration teams, helicopter landing areas, settlements for workers, drilling operations, drainage pits and roads.

The Impact on Tribal People

In 1982, the chief of the Amazonian Satere-Mawe group in Brazil wrote that exploration crews from the French trans­ national Elf Aquitaine "came into the reservation like an illness" after they had explored supposedly 'protected' tribal lands. He accused Elf employees of pol­ luting waterways with refuse, thoughtless deforestation, landing their helicopter in the middle of a village, distributing alco­ hol and showing pornographic films to vil ­ lagers.3

By May 1986, prospecting rights to a

Koy Thomson is Tropical Rainforest Campaigner at Friends of the Earth UK, 26-28 Underwood Street, London Nl 7JQ. Nigel Dudley is a researcher for Earth Resources Research Ltd., 258 Pentonville Road, London Nl 9JY.

third of the entire area of the 77 Indian Reserves in the greater Amazon basin had been requisitioned by mining companies — 17 million hectares out of a total of 52 million. Approximately 40 per cent of the companies involved are TNCs, including the Canadian TNC Brascan, British Petro­ leum, General Electric and Rhodia. I f de­ velopment goes ahead, both the native peoples and the environment wil l suffer ir­ reversible damage.

Road Building

Oil companies build roads into oil sites primarily because it is cheaper than flying workers by plane or by helicopter, al­ though i t is sometimes claimed that gov­ ernments insist on roads being built. Far more important than the actual area of forest cleared for the roads, is the role that roads play in allowing access to settlers and land speculators into previously im­ penetrable rainforest.

The impact of colonization is increased by the oil companies bringing workers into the drilling area, many of whom are on short term contracts. Workers are curren­ tly flooding into the oil drilling areas of the Carajas region of Brazil. When their con­ tracts are finished, a proportion of the wor­ kers wil l stay to swell the ranks of the migrant farmers and miners. Oil workers also frequently hunt game in the forest, en­ dangering birds and larger animals. Em­ ployees of oil exploration teams in Peru hunt illegally for meat and skins to sell in urban markets.4

is drilled in or near water, or is transported by ship. Damage to fish stocks from oil pollution is one of the problems identified by tribal groups living in drilling areas.

Much of the concern over water pollu­ tion has been focused on its impact on the vast Amazon basin river system. In June 1988, i t was revealed that Texaco had dis­ covered a potentially huge oil field on Marajo Island in the mouth of the Amazon River. Brazilian President Jose Sarney claimed that i t was equivalent to a North Sea oil field, but experts believe the optim­ ism to be premature.5 However, there have been some additional strikes off the coast of Brazil, and it is possible that a large strike wil l soon result.6

In the Oriente region of Ecuador, there have been at least 30 major oi l spills from the Trans-Ecuadorean Pipeline, with an estimated loss of 16,000,000 gallons of pe­ troleum. Two spills in 1987 and 1989 caused extensive damage to flora and fauna along hundreds of miles of river.7

Threats to Protected Areas

I t is usual in most countries for oil drilling to take precedence over designated na­ tional parks or wildlife conservation areas. In Ecuador, the oil companies are drilling in the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve, in the north of the country near the Colom­ bian border. The Manglares-Churute Eco­ logical Reserve (Ecuadorian dry forest), in the west, is (or was) also in an area under consideration for oil drilling.

The Contamination of Waterways

Oi l spills and routine leakages pollute waterways and coastal areas whenever oil

The Yasuni National Park

A major controversy is presently centred on plans to construct a 175 kilometre, $22 million road through the 680,000 hectare Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, one of

The Ecologist, Vol. 19, No. 6, November/December 1989