Ecuador defends drilling in Yasuni rain forest preserve, says new technology will protect the environment

Oct 24, 2017 | 10 comments

The manager of state oil company Petroamazonas defended Ecuador’s plans to expand exploitation of major oil reserves in one of the world’s most species-diverse rain forests, saying it will use the latest drilling technology to minimize the environmental impact.

A river in the Yasuní National Park.

Ecuador seeks to revitalize an ailing economy after a fall in oil prices and a major earthquake in 2016.

Ecuador hopes to raise revenues of about $2.4 billion annually by 2022 when it completes the development of the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) fields and Block 31, located in the Yasuni National Park, a 9,820-square-kilometer (6,100-square-mile) swathe of rainforest on the equator. Petroamazonas says the oil operation will affect less than a half-kilometer of the area.

“This is the second phase of oil exploration in Ecuador that allows for cheap and economically profitable exploitation,” said state oil company manager Alex Galarraga. “We have the technology to greatly minimize the environmental issues, to live in harmony with nature, and to maintain the most critical parts of the park with exhaustive care,” he told reporters during a tour of the heart of the park on Friday.

He cited smaller platforms, clustered wells, re-use of gas and water, as well as eco-friendly pathways to the oil installations.

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Yasuni National Park has long been pivotal in global environmental debates. Challenging the world to save Yasuni a decade ago, former president Rafael Correa asked wealthy countries to donate $3.6 billion to offset revenue lost by not drilling there. The initiative brought in less than four percent of that amount so Correa scrapped the plan six years later and authorized drilling, saying the world had failed Ecuador.

Environmental and indigenous movements demanded authorities to suspend the work, calling Correa’s challenge “bogus and unrealistic.”

Between ITT and Block 31, reserves total more than two billion barrels of crude and require an investment of almost $6 billion. Recent studies suggest as much as five billion more barrels are nearby but outside ITT and Block 31.

Petroamazonas plans to install some 26 platforms to drill 651 wells in the ITT block.

Ecuador is currently producing some 530,000 barrels per day and expects to reach 700,000 by 2022.

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