Ecuador to open Amazon's Yasuni basin to oil drilling

Thu Aug 15, 2013 11:29pm EDT
 
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By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador will open up part of the Amazon rainforest to oil drilling after rich nations failed to back a conservation plan that would have paid the country not to explore in the area, President Rafael Correa said on Thursday.

Correa launched the initiative in 2007 to protect the Yasuni area of the Amazon basin, which boasts some of the planet's most diverse wildlife, but said he had now scrapped it after it attracted only a small fraction of the sum it aimed to raise.

"I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and through it, end the initiative," Correa said in a televised address. ITT refers to three untapped oil blocks known collectively as Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini.

Scores of protesters, some with placards gathered in front of the presidential palace shortly after the announcement, angered by the decision, while others opposing them, waved flags in the color of Correa's political movement.

Ecuador, OPEC's smallest member, had planned to forgo opening the Yasuni basin, its more than 800 million barrels of crude and $7.2 billion in income from beneath the jungle floor as part of the conservation plan.

It was aimed at protecting wildlife - a single hectare (2.47 acres) of the Yasuni national park contains more tree species than in all of North America - and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples who fear oil drilling would damage their ancestral homeland.

In return, the government had hoped to receive some $3.6 billion from the international community over 12 years, or about half the value of the oil it would be leaving in the ground, through the fund administered by the United Nations.

In five years, however, only about $336 million had been pledged, mostly from European countries and various environmental groups, the campaign's manager, Ivonne Baki, said in April.   Continued...

 
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa delivers a speech in a national broadcasting conference at Carondelet Palace in Quito August 15, 2013. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja