Oil spills are common as prevention techniques are considered as too expensive for the oil companies to bother with. Oil seeps into the ground resulting in toxic crops, polluted water, diseased animals, infecting indigenous people and spreading disease. The oil settles in pools lasting years after the spill; the destruction is endless.
The main exploration in the 60s and 70s led to waves of colonisation encouraged by the Ecuador's national government. To get the oil from the Amazon on one side of the country to the refinery on the other side of the country a 420km pipeline was built right across the Andes. This meant prising open the forest and hacking it down from one side of Ecuador to the other in order to build roads. Into this wound poured thousands of farmers and people cutting down more trees to create farms and plantations. The colonisation brought with it disease, corruption, deforestation and conflict, as well as the devastating effects of oil exploitation.
Unregulated exploitation by multinational oil companies; widespread illegal logging; indiscriminate and unsustainable hunting as well as infectious diseases have all contributed to the devastation of the forest, its people, plants and animals. Through the pollution of water sources, deforestation and toxic contamination, people's traditional ways of life are put in peril. Birds, plants, insects and other animals will have to move or die out, as will the social fabric of ancient human cultures.
Some 20 years later new deposits were found in and around the Yasun� National Park and a reserve marked out for Waorani protection.
Oil companies soon invaded the protected areas and the 16,000 Woarani in the reserve was reduced to only 1,000. Those outside the reserve, the Tagaeri and Taromenane were in constant conflict with loggers, oil companies missionaries and other intruders who were trying to exterminate or pacify the only thing that stood in the way of them and more oil.
In recent years the Yasun� park boundaries have been re-drawn several times to accommodate oil exploitation which would be otherwise forbidden. In 1999 the Constitutional court approved plans to extract oil from the Yasun� National Park, a decree which violates the park's legislation. In the same year the southern part of the Yasun� was declared an 'untouchable zone', supposedly a safe haven for the non-contact indigenous people. Despite this, illegal logging has persisted.
The impacts of oil exploration in the areas surrounding the Yasun� have been well documented:
About the oil reserves in the Ecuadorian Amazon..
- Environmental impacts: the final extinction of known and unknown species, oil contamination of water and soil and a large contribution to climate change through further oil production and extensive logging. Oil spills are common and seen as a good way for pipe companies to make money.
- Cultural impacts: the final extermination of ancestral non-contact indigenous tribes through disease and violence
- Political impacts: repression, violence and conflict.
- Social impacts: high levels of disease particularly cancers and children born with deformities, alcoholism, prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases
- Economic impacts: loss of livelihoods due to environmental impacts, ie. crops and cattle destroyed by contamination
Ecuador's oil reserves are divided into different geographical 'block', with rights given to different companies to exploit each one. Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) is the name for the block in the heart of the Yasun� under which resides between 420 and a possible 900 millions barrels of oil. Despite the fact that it overlaps into the 'untouchable zone', those with interests in oil, lead by the multinational oil companies, are currently pressuring the government for the right to exploit these reserves.
The oil in the ITT is a heavy crude oil which is very difficult to extract and has a higher carbon content making it even more polluting than other oil.
It is suspended in hot toxic water containing high concentrations of salt, metals, hydrocarbons and acids. This water comes to the surface with the oil in sometimes as much as 10 times the volume - that means that for 1 barrel of oil there can be 10 barrels of waste.
Ways of disposing of this water and other solid waste are under-developed and ineffective. As a result all, or a large part of, this water ends up in rivers killing animals and spreading disease.
Despite threats and other repressive measures often carried out at the behest of the oil companies, local people are defiant - they continue to fight bravely, with heroism and dignity�
Until 1958 the Waorani in particular had fought hard against the incursion of oil companies into their territories and this had largely stopped oil advancement in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In the 40's the Waorani warrior Moipa led the resistance against an incursion by Shell and missionaries were met with the same reception 16 years later.
These days resistance by indigenous communities and other people in the region are generally ignored, even within Ecuador, never mind in the wider world.
However, in spite of threats and other repressive measures often carried out at the behest of the oil companies, people continue to fight bravely, with heroism and dignity.
Local populations have organized and mobilized to denounce the lack of environmental policies; the broken promises; the flouting of legal obligations; and to publicize the threats and abuse as well as the depletion of the region's natural resources.
Strikes are usually a last resort for the local people in order to try and get their voices heard and their demands presented. Such actions can take the form of blocking roads to stop the movement of workers and supplies to the oil wells, so halting production. Rarely a month goes by without a community going on strike and these protests can bring together other communities. But sadly the events are often met with repression by the army, which at times seems to be working hand-in-glove with oil interests
In response, the local authorities and some native and social movements in the zone have raised strong opposition. They will continue to defend conservation, and look for alternatives to oil for the sustainable development of the region. Since 2000 local governments have organized in the 'bi-provincial Orellana-Sucumbios Assembly' to propose alternative solutions, with some success. However the national government has not fully delivered on its side of the agreement.
The local authorities are acutely conscious that sustainable development, making use of the biodiversity and of the traditional knowledge of the native people, is invaluable - it is a wealth for the future: it is oro verde - green gold.