Ecuador drops hold on Amazon oil drilling

Aug. 16, 2013 at 1:15 PM
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QUITO, Ecuador, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Ecuador plans to open up an area of the Amazon rainforest to oil drilling.

In a nationally televised address Thursday, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced that the Yasuni-ITT Initiative -- in which the government had set a target of $3.6 billion in donations from around the world in to order to keep more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched beneath the Yasuni National Park -- was being dropped.

ITT refers to the Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini oil blocks in a remote area of the Yasuni, one of the world's most biologically rich areas of rainforest.

The United Nations Development Program says the Yasuni-ITT Initiative was favored by 78 percent of Ecuador's citizens. The program, the UNDP said, had the potential to avoid 800 million metric tons of CO2 emissions resulting from deforestation as well as more than 400 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from burning of oil and other factors related to the development of the fields.

In 2010, the UNDP had set up a trust fund to receive and manage donations for the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

But a report in The Miami Herald last week said that in the six years since its launch, Ecuador's plan had raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it was seeking.

"We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere," the president said in an address in April. "But if the international community doesn't help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people."

In denouncing the lack of donations for the initiative in his speech Thursday, Correa said the primary factor for its failure "is that the world is a great hypocrisy."

"We weren't asking for charity...we were asking for co-responsibility in the fight against climate change," the Herald reports.

The Ecuadorian president said the country needs its oil resources to keep pulling people out of poverty.

"We're not doing this for the next elections," said Correa, who won reelection earlier this year and leaves the presidency in 2017. "We're doing this for the next generations."

But experts say Ecuador's decision to open up the ITT could pose challenges for the government.

"Even if Ecuador's plan...for the ITT fields moves forward, the government stills face challenges related to how and with whom to develop the fields, potential social backlash from indigenous groups and whether to offer the fields through a bidding round or direct negotiations," Roger Tissot, director at oil consultancy firm Tissot Associates was quoted as saying Thursday by Bloomberg.

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