Oil exploration in the Brazilian Amazon. Exploration crews from the French transnational, Elf Aquitaine, have been accused of cutting trees and polluting rivers on protected' tribal lands, and distributing alcohol and pornographic videos to Indians. (Photo: Manchete)
the largest and most important reserves in the Amazon and home to the Waorani In dians, some of whom have never been
contacted by outsiders. The Park is per haps the richest area in the entire region, containing 50 species of fish, 500 bird species and over 100 mammal species, in cluding jaguar, ocelot, giant otter, fresh water dolphins and at least ten species of primates. The Ecuadorian government has overturned its own legislation in giving permission (and encouragement) for the road to be built.
The Yasuni Park is especially vulner able as it lies within the Oriente region, where Ecuador's best reserves of oil (the country's principal foreign exchange earner) are located. Occidental, the US transnational, started drilling near the boundary of the Park in mid-1987, and al ready exploration by Occidental and others in and around the Park has visibly reduced the number of large mammals in the area. Drilling is expected to damage ir reversibly the area's river system.10 Sev eral companies have been ceded blocks for exploration and exploitation within the park including Occidental, Consortium El f Aquitaine of France, Petrobras of Brazil, YPF of Argentina, Consortium Co noco Ecuador and British Petroleum.
The proposed road through Yasuni is supported by the Ecuadorian State Oil Corporation (CEPE), although its actual construction wil l be carried out by Cono co Ecuador Ltd (Conoco is a subsidiary of the chemical giant, Du Pont). CEPE wil l reimburse Conoco for the cost of the road once the Yasuni oilfield is commercially active, partly through a proposed $80 mil lion loan from the World Bank. The deal with CEPE is part of a standard service contract which permits oil companies to explore for oil , drill wells, bulldoze roads, create infrastructure for workers and sub contractors, and construct pipelines. Since April 1986, Conoco has invested approxi mately $45 million in the exploration of the block containing the Yasuni national park.11
Surveying for construction of the road is almost complete, and Conoco has already discovered oil in four of its wells, three of which are commercially productive. Con struction of the Yasuni road could begin
any time between March and November 1989.
Conoco claim that they wil l leave the area "i n a condition comparable to that in which we found it" , but this is extremely unlikely. There is already evidence from Ecuador of what happens after oil drilling roads are constructed. The construction of oil pipeline roads by CEPE in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, led to its colonization
by more than a thousand people. Al though the Oriente region is being increas ingly logged, timber exploitation is hampered to some extent by a lack of in frastructure. 1 3 This may not be the case for much longer, however, and according to one environmentalist in Ecuador, "the pi pelines (Quito to Esmeraldas) and their ac companying roads now criss cross the Oriente in a crazy mosaic of environmen tal and cultural destruction".14
It is almost inevitable that i f the road is built there wil l be a massive colonization of the Yasuni National Park by farmers, ranchers, land speculators and timber cut ters.
The struggle against this destruction is being led by the Indian Federations of Ecuador, who are pressing for an accord with the Ecuadorian government to pro
tect Waorani territory. Fundacion Natura, the Ecuadorian Foundation for Conserva tion has expressed grave concern about the future of all the 63,000 Indians thought to be living in the Ecuadorian rainforest.15 In July 1987, a bishop and a nun were speared to death after entering Waorani territory to establish peaceful contact and soften the impact between them and a consortium of oil exploration teams, including Petrobras, Elf-Aquitaine and BP. In consequence, oi l exploration temporarily stopped in that area, but has been resumed by Petrobras this year.
Conoco's Environmental Promises
Conoco are extremely sensitive about their environmental image, and in a memorandum from senior management, dated March 1987, employees, contractors and visitors were given a series of "rules and courtesies which must be observed" in the Yasuni Park. They were instructed that:
"Conoco has a worldwide reputa tion as an environmentally con cerned company and your co-operation in maintaining our record would be appreciated. Re peated violations of these instruc-
The Ecologist, Vol. 19, No. 6, November/December 1989 tions wil l be grounds for dismiss al. "Conoco's activities have an im pact on the environment in which i t operates - on the land, air, water, and the life forms found there. We wil l conduct all oper ations in a lawful and environ mentally responsible manner. Specifically, Conoco will : (1) Comply fully with all perti nent environmental laws and regulations". In a letter to Friends of the Earth, in March 1989, they gave further assurances about their work in the Yasuni National Park:
"...To date, we have drilled seven wells, and each drill site covers no more than four acres. Equipment, materials and personnel for drill ing have been airlifted by heli copter so no roads have been built into the drill sites...we have is sued mandates to our employees and contractors not to hunt wil dlife or disturb the flora and fauna of the Park...If the oil is to be pro duced, the construction of an ac cess road would be necessary and would constitute the primary potential impact on the rainforest. This would come from the oil operations as much as from potential agricultural coloniza tion and logging operations by local people who typically move in i f unregulated...". 6
At present, the Ecuadorian government is breaking its own laws, and Conoco is ap parently only too happy to follow suit.
Exploration in National Parks
A key policy element for any environmen tally responsible oil company must be to
refuse contracts which involve explora tion in national parks. Conoco have not only refused to leave the Park, but have re fused to take the second most preferable option, that of constructing the pipeline by air. Conoco admit that this is feasible, but reject it as too costly. James Nations, of the Centre for Human Ecology at the US Em bassy in Guatemala, claims that:
"A t a Yasuni Park planning work shop held in Quito during May, 1988, conservationists pointed out that when ecological and so cial costs are included in the oil companies calculations — rather than externalised as at present — a pipeline built by air would be cheaper than a pipeline built by road through the Yasuni National Park. While the Yasuni area is ex pected to produce petroleum for only 20 years, the park could last forever ... in the long term, in come generated by tourism and germ plasm protection in the Yasuni National Park would be worth more to Ecuador than 20 years of oil production".17
Conoco officials say that the possi bilities of not building the road are "slim-
18 to-none". They claim that CEPE is responsible for the project, and as a service company, they only work for CEPE. But as Nations points out, "ultimately, i t makes little difference how much money they spend on the Yasuni pipeline, be cause CEPE wil l reimburse the company's investment. CEPE in turn could use the
World Bank loan to cover these costs". Nations suggests that the World Bank should request that the pipeline be built by air, citing "the World Bank's new, policies on the protection of wildlands and biologi cal diversity", as the reason why they should do so. In fact, i f the World Bank stuck to its environmental policies, i t
would not give the loan to CEPE in the first place. The $800,000 being offered by the World Bank for conservation measures, is merely a gesture and is small recompense for the harm which wil l be caused by the larger loan.
Oil and Gas in the Brazilian Amazon
Exploration for oil and gas in the Brazil ian Amazon has increased sharply over the last few years and the exploitation of fos sil fuel reserves now threatens to open up even the most remote areas of the rain forest. There is no reason to believe that the effects of oil industry infrastructure de velopment in previously remote regions wil l be any less destructive than those al ready seen elsewhere in the east.
Both Brazilian and foreign TNCs, in cluding Petrobras, Elf, Pecten (Shell US), BP and Idemitsu, have been involved in oil and gas exploration in the western Ama zon since the late 1970s. The first major infrastructure project was not announced until 1983, when Brazil declared its inten tion to build a $5 billion, 3,000 km, pi peline right across the Amazon from Caraurai in the northwest to Sao Paulo. The start of the pipeline is currently only accessible by boat or by air.
In January 1983, discussions started about the possibility of building another 3,000 km pipeline from the Jurua gasfield
in western Amazonas to Sao Paulo. Pe trobras had been drilling in Jurua for sev eral years and estimated the gasfield to be some 300 miles long and 40 miles wide.
Limiting the Transnationals
During 1987, Brazil tried to stop foreign
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The Ecologist, Vol. 19, No. 6, November/December 1989