Ecuador government weighs delaying closure of controversial ITT oil block

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MONGABAY
12 de febrero, 2024

  • The government in Ecuador is considering ways to avoid closing the 43-ITT oil block, located inside Yasuní National Park in the eastern Amazon, despite the results of a national referendum last year to halt drilling.
  • Since opening in 2016, the operation has led to numerous oil spills and the construction of a road through the 82,000-hectare (202,626 acre) reserve, threatening biodiversity as well as Indigenous groups, many of them living in voluntary isolation.
  • But some officials have said closing the oil block needs to be delayed by at least one year to allow the national economy to respond to what could amount to billions of dollars in losses.

The government in Ecuador is looking for ways to keep open a controversial oil block in the Amazon Rainforest, defying the results of a referendum to close the operation due to pollution and public health risks.

Officials said they are considering ways to avoid closing the 43-ITT oil block, located inside Yasuní National Park in the eastern Amazon, despite the results of a national referendum last year to halt drilling.

“The entire system of the rule of law is at risk if the people’s will isn’t fulfilled,” said Pedro Bermeo, a spokesperson for YASunidos, an anti-extractives group that organized the referendum. “This is fundamental to a functioning democracy.”

Over 5 million people voted to close the oil block last year, which was producing around 57,000 barrels per day across 12 oil platforms and 230 wells, according to PetroEcuador, the state-owned oil company.

Since opening in 2016, the massive operation has led to numerous oil spills and the construction of a road through the 82,000-hectare (202,626-acre) reserve, threatening biodiversity as well as Indigenous groups, many of them living in voluntary isolation.

Although the terms of the referendum require all oil infrastructure to be dismantled within one year — meaning the block should be closed by August — several officials have called for a “moratorium” on the closure to protect the economy. Crude oil makes up around a third of Ecuador’s exports, and the oil block was expected to bring in around $14 billion over the next 20 years, according to PetroEcuador.

The 43-ITT oil block in Ecuador. (Photo courtesy of PetroEcuador)

Vice Minister of Economy and Finance Daniel Falconí said the country needs time to find a replacement for so much revenue. Minister of Energy Andrea Arrobo said filling a billion-dollar gap in the economy could require the oil block to operate for at least another five years.

President Daniel Noboa, who took office last November, promised to respect the results of the referendum during his campaign but, since taking office, has said the moratorium should last for a year, if not longer.

“We’re at war,” he said, referring to a wave of gang violence that hit Ecuador in January, destabilizing the country. “We are not in the same situation as two years ago [when a request for the referendum was originally approved].”

Officials were unavailable for comment or didn’t respond to Mongabay’s emails.

Delaying the oil block’s closure could involve holding a new referendum or asking the Constitutional Court for an extension. So far, no formal steps have been taken for either option.

YASunidos and other activist groups have requested information about the progress of the closure but haven’t received a response. They also haven’t been told which avenue officials plan to take to keep the oil block open.

The organization submitted a request to the Constitutional Court this month asking that it intervene because of the comments made by the president and other officials.

“What we hope for in the coming months is that the court will use its powers to monitor the case and force the government to comply with this popular mandate,” Bermeo said.

Banner image: Yasuní National Park. Photo courtesy of Global Conservation. 

Tomado de: https://news.mongabay.com/2024/02/ecuador-government-weighs-delaying-closure-of-controversial-itt-oil-block/

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