Oil and Gas Blocks Cover 75 Percent of the Peruvian Amazon

LIMA, Peru, May 28, 2008 (ENS) – The Peruvian Amazon, a region that holds some of the most pristine and biodiverse rainforests on Earth, continues to face an unprecedented wave of new oil and gas exploration.

Peru recently released eight new Amazon oil blocks as part of its 2008 bidding round. According to analysis by Save America’s Forests, that brings the total to 64 oil and gas blocks in Peru’s vast Amazon region.

“Oil and gas blocks now blanket nearly 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon,” said Dr. Matt Finer, staff ecologist at Save America’s Forests in Washington, DC, who is now in Peru. “That is over 123 million acres of megadiverse rainforest, roughly the size of California and Maine combined.”

The Achuar communities of the Corrientes
River shut down half of Peru’s oil production
in protest. October 10, 2006.
(Photo by Feconaco)

These blocks are auctioned by the state oil company Perupetro as license contracts for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons. They now sprawl across both protected areas and indigenous territories.

“Hydrocarbon blocks now overlap 20 protected areas,” said Cesar Gamboa, president of the Peruvian nongovernmental organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.

“Thirteen of these protected areas preceded creation of the oil blocks and the overlap is illegal due to the lack of compatibility studies required in the Protected Areas Law,” Gamboa said.

“Virtually all of the blocks overlap titled indigenous peoples lands,” said Robert Guimaráes Vasquez, vice president of the Peruvian indigenous organization AIDESEP. “Moreover, many of the blocks overlap the territories of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation.”

An analysis by Save America’s Forests indicates that 58 of the 64 blocks overlay titled indigenous lands and 15 overlap the territories of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation.

These isolated peoples, so named due to their deliberate avoidance of the outside world, are extremely vulnerable because they lack resistance or immunity from outsiders’ diseases.

The Peruvian government, in 2003, reduced royalties to promote investment, sparking a new exploration boom.

Children from the isolated Ashaninka tribe,
who live near the Yurua River, Peru.
(Photo © David Hill courtesy
Survival International)

Environment News Service has documented the rapid proliferation of oil and gas blocks across the Peruvian Amazon. In January of 2006, ENS reported that 54 million acres of the Peruvian rainforest was covered in oil and gas blocks.

Then in December of 2006, ENS reported that the covered area had jumped to over 97 million acres. Now, the number has jumped again to 123 million acres.

“This increase from 25 percent to 50 percent to 75 percent coverage of the Peruvian Amazon in such a short period of time is extremely alarming,” said Finer.

More than 20 international oil companies, from Brazil and Colombia to Ireland and Korea, now operate in Peru.

Of the 64 oil and gas blocks that now cover the Peruvian Amazon, 48 are active with signed contracts between the government and multinational companies.

All but eight of the contracts have been signed since 2004. The 16 other blocks are likely to have contracts in 2008 or 2009.

Civil society organizations, however, had some positive news after the 2008 bidding round.

Three separate areas that are home to indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and were part of last year’s bidding round but not selected by any companies, did not return as part of the 2008 bidding round as feared.

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said, “Perupetro’s decision is the right one – from both a legal and humanitarian point of view – and we hope this change of heart is permanent.”

A marmoset perches on the shoulder of
a Peruvian boy in Iquitos. (Photo
credit unknown)

“However, there remain other areas inhabited by the Indians where exploration is still going on,” said Corry. “These areas must be made off-limits too, and the companies should withdraw in accordance with international law.”

In April, a judge in Peru dismissed the arguments of three companies and the Peruvian government in a court case involving some of the world’s last uncontacted tribes and oil exploration.

The case was filed by AIDESEP, which was seeking an order to ban oil companies from working in regions of the Peruvian Amazon inhabited by uncontacted tribes.

The aim is “to protect the fundamental rights to life, health, ethnic identity, clean environment, property and ancestral territories of uncontacted tribes of the Napo/Tigre rivers region – rights that are threatened by the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in Lots 67 and 39,” AIDESEP said in a statement.

The companies involved are Repsol-YPF, Barrett Resources (recently acquired by French company Perenco) and Burlington Resources. The companies and the Peruvian government attempted to have the case thrown out of court on various technical points, but the judge has rejected their arguments. A final ruling is expected shortly.

A cricket of the Peruvian Amazon
(Photo by Artour A)

Save America’s Forests warns that the situation facing the Peruvian Amazon is particularly alarming given that the western Amazon is likely to be a refuge for Amazonian biodiversity in the face of global warming.

Recent studies indicate that the eastern Amazon is to experience increased drought while the western Amazon will be more stable.

“Amazonian diversity for plants, birds, amphibians, and mammals all peak at its upper reaches in Peru and Ecuador,” said Dr. Clinton Jenkins of Duke University.

Dr. Jenkins is refining the existing range maps for mammals, birds, and amphibians in the Americas and he is working with Save America’s Forests to understand and eliminate threats to biodiversity and indigenous peoples in the northwest Amazon.

“This is one of the most diverse areas in the world, both biologically and ethnically,” Dr. Jenkins says. “Oil development is the major threat to this part of the Amazon.”

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