Since 2011, deforestation has increased in the protected area of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park in response to oil drilling activities. The 982,000-hectare park encompasses much of the western Amazon, a hotspot for biodiversity, has an estimated 846 million barrels of oil. Given its high oil content, Yasuni has been a drilling site since the 1970s.

Map of oil blocks within Yasuni National Park. Image courtesy of Finer, Pappalardo, Ferrarese, De Marchi (2014).

A particular region of the park, referred to as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocks, is believed to contain about 20% of Ecuador’s fossil fuel resources. At the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT Initiative. This was an effort to protect the ITT blocks from exploitation for their energy resources, saying that they would remain untouched so long as international donors paid half of the expected revenue that would be generated from resource extraction. This money, about $3.6 billion, would go to a trust fund set up by the U.N.

Unfortunately, this proposal did not succeed because international donors only submitted $13 million to the trust fund, causing Correa to terminate the initiative in 2013.

Between 2011 and July 2014 there has been a significant rise in Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) alerts. FORMA uses satellite imagery to create up-to-date maps and alerts of tropical forest clearing. Most of the alerts that have come from within Yasuni National Park are located beside oil well sites.

Ultimately, resource withdrawal is not the only contributor to deforestation. Drug trafficking, illicit animal poaching, and illicit logging also contribute to the rising rate of deforestation. Pamela Martin of Coastal Carolina University, said that the increase in roads winding throughout Yasuni Park is enabling illicit loggers to infiltrate further into the park. Such development has more impact than just the loss of trees. Indigenous tribes living in isolation in the park, such as the Tagaeri and Taromenane, face exposure to the outside world. An indigenous tribe in Peru was already forced out of voluntary-isolation in order to seek medical treatment for influenza. The tribe contracted the flu when they were forced out of Peru due to non-indigenous invasion. The rainforest is a vital, protective habitat for plants and animals as well as indigenous tribes.

Secret oil access road within Yasuní’s Block 31. Photo by Ivan Kashinsky.

Timeline of Yasuni Oil Extraction Developments

August 2011: Spokesperson Yvonne Baki launched a media campaign to revive the Yasuní-ITT Initiative.

2012: Roads were observed within Block 31, allegedly developed by Petroamazonas.

January 2013: The Huapamala hydroelectric power plant project was launched.

February 2013: President Rafael Correa was re-elected for a third term with more than 57 percent of the vote. At this point, Ecuador’s government had raised $330 million towards the Yasuni-ITT Initiative (with $13 million deposited).

August 2013: Correa ceased the Yasuni-ITT Initiative and began opening up the park to oil extraction. He declared on television that the Initiative would not have been successful, as only a relatively small portion of the needed funds had been raised. “I signed the act for the decease of the trustee found Yasuni-ITT, putting an end to the protectionist Initiative,” he said, defining his decision as “one of the hardest anybody can take.”

September 2013: The international community sent petitions and letters to the Ecuadorian Ambassadors in many countries to oppose the cancellation of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

June 2014: Approval to drill was granted by the Ecuadorian government after an attempt by activists to trigger a national referendum on the issue was thrown out by Ecuador’s National Electoral Council. Large-scale drilling is scheduled to begin in 2016.

July 2014: According to the Guardian, documents surfaced revealing Ecuador’s government was moving to install a power plant to exploit Yasuni’s oil fields while it was purportedly pursuing the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

Source: Mongabay.com