Ecuador plans to auction off more than 3 million hectares of Amazonian rainforest to Chinese and other global oil companies, capping a four-nation tour last week to publicize the bidding contracts, The Guardian reports.
The announcement from the Hydrocarbons Secretariat of Ecuador puts forward 13 largely unexplored oil blocks for lease in the country’s southeastern region, near the border with Peru, where proven reserves in and near some of the blocks are estimated at more than 100 million barrels. According to Wilson Pastor, Ecuador’s minister Nonrenewable Natural Resources, the country has not explored enough in the past 15 years, and needs to attract foreign investment as well as increase reserves, IHS reports.
Amazon Watch says that more than 1 million people have signed a petition for Ecuador to suspend the tendering of oil concessions over concerns that the exploration and development will devastate the rainforest and the native communities that live there.
Moreover, the participation of Chinese oil companies in the bidding would violate China’s guidelines for environmental protection in foreign investment and cooperation released by the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Environmental Protection last month. It also would contradict the China Banking Regulatory Commission’s Green Credit Guidelines, according to Amazon Watch.
Ecuadorian officials say that strict sustainability guidelines must be followed in the oil blocks, Discovery News reports.
Seven nationalities in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon – the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Shiwiar, Andoa, Waorani and Sapara – have issued a declaration denouncing the proposed auction. They claim that the Ecuadorian government has not obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which aims to protect the rights of indigenous communities whose lives and lands are affected by extractive projects such as oil drilling.
Ecuador’s secretary of hydrocarbons, Andres Donoso Fabara says that indigenous leaders, with their efforts to block the current development plan, are misrepresenting their communities to achieve political goals, and that the government had held back on opening certain blocks of land to bidding because it lacked support from local communities, The Guardian reports.
In a long running dispute with Chevron, Ecuadorian residents have sought billions in penalties for environmental damage and pollution in the country’s rain forest stemming back to 1963. The company denies responsibility for the pollution.
As recently as February 2013, president Rafael Correa voiced strong criticism for the decades-old dispute, claiming that Chevron has conducted an international PR campaign to destroy Ecuador and discredit the Ecuadorean justice system, Merco Press says.