By David Hill
15 October 2013
(theguardian.com) – The decision by Ecuador's president Rafael Correa to abandon a plan to permanently forgo exploiting hundreds of millions of barrels of oil in return for at least US$3.6bn in compensation – the "Yasuni-ITT Initiative" – has sparked severe non-state media criticism in Ecuador, calls for a referendum, protests in numerous cities and embassies around the world, and an international outcry.
Here are just four ways in which Correa's attempt to explain his decision are misleading:
1. In the TV speech on 15 August when he announced his decision Correa said that the oil exploitation he is now promoting will affect less than 1% of the Yasuni national park, a 1,030,070 hectare area, according to him, in Ecuador's Amazon.
'The choice was: Yasuni 100% intact and have no money to fight poverty or 99% of Yasuni intact – at least 99% – and have about US$18 billion,' he said, emphasizing that the decree liquidating the Yasuni-ITT Initiative prohibits more than 1% of the park being affected and then later that day tweeting he had made an 'error' and only 0.1% of the park would be affected.
What were these figures based on? Possibly an 'impact study' of a plan to drill 32 wells in the Tiputini and Tambococha fields which was written by PetroAmazonas, part of state oil company PetroEcuador, and estimates that 16.8 hectares and therefore only '0.0017%' of the park will be directly impacted, or Ministry of Non-Renewable Natural Resources (MNRNR) data arguing that exploitation of all three Tiputini, Tambococha and Ishpingo fields will directly impact 'about 200 hectares' – '0.02%.'
Whatever the case, Correa ignored the fact that this '0.0017%' estimate appears to exclude planned 3D seismic tests in the Tambococha field, and that 'Block ITT' or 'Block 43', as the concession is called, extends for over 100,000 hectares of Yasuni and therefore operations could expand much, much deeper into the park.
Most significantly of all, Correa ignored the much wider context. Although he made passing reference to 'four existing oil exploitation projects' in Yasuni, he didn't mention that, according to the Ministry of Environment, six oil concessions in addition to Block ITT include parts of Yasuni and therefore over 350,000 hectares of the park is already overlapped.
2. In the same TV speech Correa said that exploitation in Yasuni will be done with 'cutting-edge techniques', a claim that appears to be supported by PetroAmazonas´s 'impact study' which states that Tiputini and Tambococha 'will be developed using best practices.'
Indeed, PetroAmazonas specifically states that no roads will be built to exploit those two fields. Some experts on oil industry best practices consider roads in fragile environments like the Amazon a strict no-no, and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers called them years ago the 'greatest single cause of environmental impact' in the rainforest.
But is the ban on roads for real?
In neighbouring Block 31 – which overlaps 173,857 hectares of Yasuni – a Petrobras 'Environmental Management Plan' from 2006 stated that 'no new access roads will be built', only a 5.1 km 'sendero' ('path', 'track', 'trail') made of 'geoblocks' linking two drilling platforms.
However, in 2009 PetroAmazonas took over Block 31 and in 2012 built a 19km road right into the heart of it. This is one of the four projects briefly mentioned by Correa in his 15 August TV speech, all of which he described as 'examples of environmentally friendly exploitation.' [more]