Oil & the Amazon
At Rainforest Partnership, we have been highlighting the important correlation between rainforests and climate change and how any meaningful address of the pressing issue of climate change should focus on the protection of rainforests across the world.
While climate change has emerged as the most consequential issue of our times, we also need to work towards understanding and raising awareness on other man-made disasters that have immediate and detrimental impacts on the environment.
Rainforest Partnership’s work over the years has taken us to diverse communities in the Amazon rainforest from country’s humid lowland jungles to higher altitude cloudforests. While we have come across specific issues affecting these communities that can be tied back to the larger concern over rainforest protection, there are two communities we work with who face a common threat to their forest home and way of life. And that common threat is oil spills.
Our Partner Communities
The two indigenous rainforest communities are the Sani Isla community in Ecuador and the Achuar community in Peru, each situated close to the border between the two countries. In Sani Isla, we successfully completed our active project implementation in 2016 (the case study is published on our website) and we continue to support the community as they work on furthering the women led Sani Warmi business. Our partnership with the Achuar is focused on helping them build a traditional medicinal center that values their knowledge and culture and create a socio-economic business model that will be sustainable in the long-term.
The Sani Isla community is situated on the borders of two protected areas – the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve and the Yasuní National Park. The Yasuní National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also happens to lie over a rich reserve of around crude oil. The Ecuadorian government initially decided to not disturb the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) corridor of the park from oil drilling, in compensation of 3.6 Billion from the international community. But when only when $200 million was pledged from the international community, the Ecuadorian government decided to open the land for oil drilling, which is now actively underway.
While the Sani Isla community is now more economically self-sufficient and have so far successfully managed to keep oil drilling activities off their own territory, they continue to face pressure from oil companies looking to explore oil in their lands.
The Achuar community is located along the Pastaza, Marañon and Corrientes river basins in one of the most biologically diverse region in Peru. The Achuar territory and the surrounding areas are said to hold nearly 40 million barrels of oil and have been designated as an oil block (Block 64) by the Peruvian government. There is documented history of conflicts between the Achuar community and various oil companies interested in drilling for oil in this region. Sometime around the end of last year, the Peruvian government approved a plan to open this region for oil drilling. The Achuar community continues to strongly resist this plan from taking shape and prevent oil drilling and exploration activities from taking place in their forest region.
Impacts of Oil Drilling
Oil spills, whether they are a result of activities taking place in oil wells, from offshore rigs or from tankers carrying oil can have long-term devastating impact on the environment. It affects everything from the land, water sources, biodiversity to humans settled alongside the areas where the spill has occurred.
In the Amazon rainforest, as with other ecosystems, oil spills can have grave consequences. Since many Amazonian rivers are interconnected, oil spills in one part of the river can impact areas beyond the area of occurrence.
Just last year, there were many documented instances of oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon and these were reported at length by many media outlets. This is one such article that gives insight on spill/leak of 3,000 barrels of oil –
What Can We Do
At Rainforest Partnership, we work directly with the communities in the Amazon rainforest to help them become economically sustainable so that they are empowered to say no to oil companies looking to drill in their lands.
But as long as there is demand for fossil fuels like oil and we continue to rely heavily on them for our energy, transportation and other everyday needs, these companies will continue to drill and explore for oil in sensitive ecoregions like the Amazon and this will lead to the occurrence of more oil spills.
As individuals and collectively as a society, we can take steps towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and our carbon footprints and instead take actions that are environmentally sustainable. This can start with each of us being conscious of what products we use and buy, lowering our energy use or investing in renewable energy and raising awareness on the issue of oil pollution and its impact on the environment.
Every step can make a difference to the health of our planet.