Ecuador will ban oil operations in the basin of the Amazon

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The Trans-Andean oil pipeline on the western slope of the Andes, Ecuador. This pipeline links oilfields in the Amazon with a refinery on the Pacific coast.

A historic decision has been made in Ecuador, much to the delight of Amazon defenders. A majority of Ecuadorian citizens have cast their votes to cease oil production in a symbolic section of the Yasuni Amazonian reserve, located in the eastern region of Ecuador. In a referendum held Sunday alongside an early general election, 59% of Ecuadorians supported the halt of oil production in “Block 43”. This national referendum, advocated for by an environmental group for a decade, was finally granted authorization by the country’s highest court in May. It was designed to determine the fate of the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) block, also known as “Block 43,” responsible for extracting 12% of Ecuador’s daily oil production, which amounts to 466,000 barrels.

The vote coincides with a period of soaring global temperatures, setting record-breaking heat levels, and scientists are sounding alarms about the Amazon rainforest teetering dangerously close to a critical tipping point that could transform it into grasslands.

Petroecuador, the national oil company, pledged to adhere to the “sovereign decision” of the Ecuadorian people. The government of Ecuador estimated losses of $16.47 billion over 20 years if Block 43 were revoked.

Yasuni, an unparalleled biodiversity reserve, spans nearly a million hectares of lush, primary forest. It is also home to indigenous communities, notably the historic territory of the Waorani, as well as the Kichwa, Tagaeri, Taromenane, and Dugakaeri, the last groups living in voluntary isolation in Ecuador, avoiding modern civilization. The two main indigenous organizations in the country, Confeniae, and Conaie, celebrated this as a giant step towards safeguarding life, biodiversity, and indigenous peoples.

The environmental group Yasunidos, which initiated the referendum, hailed it as “a historic victory for Ecuador and the planet.” This marks the first instance where a nation has chosen to protect life and leave oil untapped, establishing Ecuador as the first country globally to cease oil drilling through direct climate democracy.

Oil exploitation has been a cornerstone of Ecuador’s dollarized economy since the 1970s. Crude oil, the country’s top export, generated $10 billion in revenue in 2022, accounting for a substantial portion of the GDP. Nearly half a million barrels are extracted daily from the Amazonian region in the northeastern part of the country. This crude is transported via pipelines to the Pacific coast, and across millions of hectares, the landscape is dominated by oil wells, pipelines, tankers, treatment facilities, and flaring flames.

While authorities contend that this industry has enriched state coffers and fostered the country’s development, environmental activists argue that it has brought about debt, poverty, and widespread pollution. President Guillermo Lasso, in office since 2021, had plans to double national oil production. His term will conclude in October 2023, following the second round of the early presidential election, set on October 15.

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