From: Zoraida Portillo, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published March 10, 2010 12:15 PM

Hydrocarbon development threatens the Amazon

Because hydrocarbons are now being exploited at a rate 7 times higher than in 2003, the impacts of oil and gas activities need to be scientifically studied.

These studies should rigorously identify and measure the effects on biodiversity, indigenous groups and wilderness areas in this region.

This view was expressed to SciDev.Net by Martí Orta-Martinez from the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and co-author of a study on the predation of the Peruvian Amazon in this century by the granting of land for gas exploration and oil.


"There is a need for universities and Peruvian investigation centers to document and analyze these impacts in a coordinated and systematic manner. A centralized database would be useful to devising policies and strategies," he said.

According Matt Finer, U.S. forest ecologist, member of the non-governmental organization Save America's Forest, and a leading researcher on the subject, 48.6 percent of the Peruvian Amazon is covered by oil and gas concessions. In 2003 this percentage was 7.1.

Plus, according to the technical evaluation agreements and proposals for concessions, the percentage could grow to 72 percent in the coming years.

Over 17 percent of current concessions are in protected areas, and more than half of all indigenous lands. They also constitute over 60 percent of the area proposed as a reserve for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation or out of contact.

For authors, it is difficult to predict the future of the western Amazon as it confronts a "second boom" of hydrocarbon exploitation. The first was in the seventies, when there was not "a regional or systematic method to determine their environmental impacts."

Orta-Martinez stated that science should help with comprehensive investigations of the effects in each disturbed region, because currently, the environmental impact studies are broken into individual lots or oil projects without having a regional perspective.

Such investigations should expand the accumulated bio-contaminants in the hydrocarbon industry, to monitor related activities in illegal logging, the advance the frontier logging, agriculture and livestock.

In particular, studies should be done on the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, who are highly vulnerable to the spread of epidemics, he said.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters on February 16, presents a rigorous political debate with the goal of preventing further environmental damage and minimizing the possibility of social conflicts.

Translated by ENN.

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