Peruvian Amazon braces for second coming of oil and gas, and it’s a big one

The second wave of oil and natural gas exploration is headed for the Peruvian Amazon, a boom so massive it threatens an unprecedented amount of rain forest in the region.

“More of the Peruvian Amazon has recently been leased to oil and gas companies than at any other time on record,” states a press release by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

Exploitation of the Amazon’s natural riches is nothing new. More than a billion barrels of oil have been extracted there since the 1940s. And now an old practice returns with vigor as a new report reveals oil and gas leasing is on track to take over about 70 percent of the Peruvian Amazon, endangering biodiversity and indigenous cultures alike.

Martí Orta, a researcher with the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals in Spain, and Matt Finer with the U.S.-based Save America’s Forests released the first ever complete history and projection of hydrocarbon exploration in the Peruvian Amazon, published this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They analyzed 40 years of government energy records and used Geographical Information Systems to show the overlap of energy development with protected and indigenous lands. What they found was nothing short of alarming.

Here’s a little breakdown.

The proposed development has already spurred conflict. In 2009, a deadly clash between indigenous people and government enforcement in Bagua, Peru, was largely attributed to anger over plans to lease or sell indigenous lands without the peoples’ consent.

As unsettling as the study sounds, Orta and Finer don’t just present a picture of gloom and doom for the rainforest and its inhabitants. They name a few policy and grass-roots actions to consider. In particular, Orta and Finer draw attention to the efforts of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative in Equador, which campaigns for international donations that will help stop oil exploration by purchasing protection for threatened rainforest. The authors mention a similar effort could be made for the Peruvian Amazon.

At the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if this report is cited throughout the policy debates that I am sure will ensue.

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