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Oil projects threaten western Amazonia
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Hydrocarbon development puts biodiversity and native peoples at risk.

The western Amazon Rainforest, home to the most biologically diverse virgin forests on the planet, will soon be overrun with oil wells and gas pipelines amid increasing international demands for fuel, according to a paper published in the US scientific journal PLos ONE.

The paper, “Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to Wilderness, Biodiversity, and Indigenous People,” which was published on Aug. 13, found that there are 180 oil and gas lots in the western Amazon with an area of 688,000 square kilometers (265,000 square miles), operated by at least 35 multinational companies.

Scientists at US-based nongovernmental organizations Save America´s Forests and Land Is Life, and Duke University note in the study an alarming number of threats to biodiversity and indigenous peoples due to increased development in this sector.

“We found that the oil and gas blocks overlap perfectly with the most biodiverse part of the Amazon for birds, mammals, and amphibians,” said study co-author Dr. Clinton Jenkins of Duke University. “The threat to amphibians is of particular concern because they are already the most threatened group of vertebrates worldwide.”

The study, which notes that the western Amazon, compared with the Brazilian Amazon, has a largely intact ecosystem, reports that the development of hydrocarbons projects there threatens nature reserves. One example is Ecuador´s Yasuní National Park – the country’s largest – and Madidi National Park in Bolivia.

Matt Finer of Save America´s Forests said that the situation is most worrying in the Peruvian jungle, where 64 oil and gas blocks cover 72 percent of the 490,000 square kilometers (190,000 square miles) of Amazon forest in Peru.

In 2003, Peru´s government began a major push to develop new hydrocarbon projects in its Amazon region. While such projects cannot be developed in national parks, oil and gas blocks coincide with protected areas, indigenous lands as well as territory home to native tribes living in voluntary isolation.

"The way that oil development is being pursued in the Western Amazon is a gross violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the region," said Brian Keane of Land Is Life. "International agreements and Inter-American human rights law recognize that indigenous peoples have rights to their lands, and explicitly prohibit the granting of concessions to exploit natural resources in their territories without their free, prior and informed consent."

From Aug. 9-19, indigenous groups in Peru´s Amazon protested a presidential decree, which has since been overturned by Congress that would lower the requirement of community approval for the sale of their land for private investment projects from two-thirds to a simple majority. The protesters blocked roads and occupied an electric plant and prompted the shutdown of a major oil pipeline.

The decrees that Congress repealed were part of a 99-norm package to facilitate the implementation of the free trade agreement with the United States, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. Some of the decrees would have a direct impact on the country´s forests, indigenous and campesina communities and environmental and water management.

In September, Peru´s oil licensing agency PeruPetro will auction off 22 oil and gas lots, the country´s largest auction in history.
—Latinamerica Press.

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