Peru increases rainforest protections, while Ecuador is to allow an oil pipeline through its Amazon forests

Peru has announced the creation of a huge new national park, while the nation’s smaller neighbour is under fire from environmentalists and indigenous people for allowing the construction of an oil pipeline traversing the Ecuadorian Amazon.

On 26 May, President Valentín Paniagua and Peru’s Council of Ministers created the 13,400 square kilometre (5,225 square mile) Parque Nacional Cordillera Azul, an almost untouched and uninhabited virgin forest on the east side of the Andes mountains. President Paniagua only took only two weeks to designate the park, a very short time in bureaucracy-laden Peru, as indigenous people and NGOs had been requesting the area’s protection. According to the Peruvian Assocation for the Conservation of Nature (APECO), which helped to compile a biological inventory to assist the park’s designation, this has now prevented the immigration of people from the highlands into the rainforest, where they would have cleared forest for farms.

Conservation efforts were assisted by the identification of 28 new plant and animal species, including a high-altitude salamander, two new species of poison arrow frogs and a bird, named capito wallacei, related to the woodpecker. About 1,600 plant species, 500 birds, 82 amphibians and reptilians species and 71 mammal species, 13 of which are endangered, were recorded in the inventory. A management plan, involving local people, will now be established.

However, conservationists in nearby Ecuador are not so contented, with Amazon Watch and Greenpeace saying that a new 480 kilometre (300 mile), long oil pipeline “threatens fragile ecosystems and communities from the Amazon rainforest to the Pacific coast”. The OCP project, as it is known, is the brainchild of the Ecuadorian government and a consortium of multinational oil companies, comprising Alberta Energy (Canada), Kerr McGee (USA), Occidental Petroleum (USA), AGIP (Italy), Perez Companc (Argentina), Repsol-YPF (Spain) and Techint (Argentina) and financially backed by Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, and Deutsche Bank.

The pipeline would transport heavy crude oil from the country’s eastern rainforest region to the Pacific Coast, which, environmentalists say, places 11 protected areas and dozens of communities in jeopardy. OCP is to run through the Mindo Nambillo Cloudforest Reserve and surrounding ecologically sensitive forests, which together are home to more than 450 species of birds, 46 of which are threatened by extinction. The area has also been designated the first ‘Important Bird Area of South America by Birdlife International. Amazon Watch says the pipeline also represents a threat to the area’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry, which is expected to bring in $600 million over the next 20 years.

In order to fill the new pipeline, Ecuador would have to double its current oil production, the environmentalists say, which would set off a boom in new oil exploration. Hundreds of new oil wells and flow lines would be built from existing oil concessions along with facilities necessary to process and refine the heavy crude for transport across the country, they say, threatening other protected areas and indigenous communities.

Seventeen international organisations including Greenpeace, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth have sent a letter to the project’s financers urging them to refrain from further support, while more than 2000 Ecuadorian’s have demonstrated against the pipeline at its third and final public hearing. In addition, seven organisations including CONAIE, the national indigenous organisation and the Association of Professionals of Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company, have filed a legal petition for a constitutional injunction.

Protesters criticise the Ecuadorian Government for prematurely ending the public review process for the project, 27 days after the release of the Environmental Impact Study, which they say is deficient. The groups also point out that the increased oil production and exploration necessary to fill the pipeline will lead to irreversible devastation in areas boasting some of the world’s highest biological and cultural diversity such as the Yasuni National Park, the area believed to contain the largest heavy crude reserve in Ecuador.

The project’s backers say the proposed route is more secure and reduces the risk of natural disasters, eliminating a series of physical and geological problems. The Energy Ministry is expected to decide on the environmental permit by June 10.

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