Ecuador Lawmakers Approve Oil Drilling in Yasuni
Ecuador’s Congress on Thursday authorized oil drilling in the nation’s biggest oil field in Yasuni National Park, the pristine Amazon reserve that is also the country’s largest park.
After a 10-hour debate, the loyalist-dominated National Assembly approved President Rafael Correa’s plan by a 108 to 25 margin, giving the green light to oil exploration and drilling in blocks 31 and 43. The measure, however, included conditions to minimize the impact on both the environment and local indigenous tribes.
Correa in August announced that he was abandoning the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, a bold and unique plan to persuade rich countries to pay Ecuador not to drill in the Yasuni region. Correa later lamented that wealthy nations had failed to pledge enough money. The president launched the initiative in 2007 to protect the park, which boasts some of the planet’s most diverse wildlife, but scrapped it after attracting only a small fraction of the $3.6 billion sought.
Since the announcement to abandon the plan, there have been large protests by indigenous groups and environmentalists throughout the country. Correa reacted to the protests by saying he would welcome a national referendum on oil drilling in Yasuni. So far, about 680,000 voters have signed a petition calling for a referendum.
Now that oil drilling has been approved by the Congress, Correa said about US$20 billion of the earnings would be used to combat poverty in Ecuador, adding that it’s essential to tap oil reserves to increase government spending on the poor.
Ecuador’s state oil company Petroamazonas will be in charge of the crude oil extraction, estimated to amount to 800 million barrels, adding some 225,000 barrels per day to Ecuador’s daily oil production. Ecuador current oil production rate is 540,000 barrels per day. The oil believed to be lying under the Yasuni rainforest is equivalent to 20% of Ecuador’s total reserves.
Drilling in the park could begin as soon as the end of October.