Continuing Global Oil Demand Driving Biodiversity Loss in Western Amazonia

As existing oil supply reaches its peak and begins to dwindle, rather than investing in clean alternatives, oil companies are seeking to continue profiteering from remaining stocks that are locked up in remote, sensitive and fragile biomes such as the Amazon.

The western Amazon, (which includes Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and Columbia) is relatively untouched, yet plans have been hatched to open up the region to scout for and extract oil.

Close to 180 ‘blocks’ that have been allocated by regional governments overlap with some of the most biologically diverse regions of Amazonia, not to mention some of the last few uncontacted tribes in the region. In Peru, 58 of the 64 blocks allocated to prospective oil companies have already been allocated to indigenous tribes.

As directly illustrated by the recent documentary led by Bruce Parry on the BBC, once roads have been carved through the forest, it can become cleared for at least 30km either side of the road. Spillover effects include increased levels of illegal bushmeat hunting, logging and human settlement.

However the human element cannot be taken out of the equation. Many involved in activities that lead to forest destruction directly or indirectly, do it out of financial necessity or survival. Positive engagement and incentivisation not to destroy and take at the local level is required, and this needs to begin at the government level. Research into the value of the ecosystem services provided by the forests suggests they are worth considerably more standing than cleared. However, without funds directed from the thriving ‘carbon market’ and invested in the forest, they will continue to be destroyed for local and commercial purposes.

The researchers in Finer et al’s study outline the following policy initiatives to curb the social and ecological breakdown:

  • roadless extraction methods to greatly reduce these impacts
  • attention to be paid to the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those living in voluntary isolation who by definition cannot be consulted or give their consent
  • clarification of who controls the land and its oil and gas resources as this would greatly influence the development of the region
  • regional Strategic Environmental Assessments conducted by neutral parties to prevent habitat fragmentation and progressive damage across large areas of untouched forest
  • support Ecuador’s YasuniITT proposal2, which seeks compensation from the international community in exchange for leaving the country’s largest oil fields, located beneath untouched rainforest, unexploited.

Sceptics believe that economising the forests could lead to rich countries being allocated funds for their remaining rainforest’s as well. Priority really should be given to developing countries that house some of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. What is certain is unless real action is taken soon, there will be little left on the ground to conserve.

BES members and genuine blog readers are invited to comment

Source: Finer, M., Jenkins, C., Pimm, S., et al. (2008). Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to Wilderness, Biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples. PLoS One. 3(8): e2932 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002932.