Friday, December 08, 2006

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Amazon

This week's widely published good news from the environmental front lines was the Brazilian state of Pará's decision to protect 15 million hectares (an area the size of Illinois) of the Northern Amazon.

What was less intensively covered was a report from Peru revealing that their government has now signed away more than 39 million hectares of their remaining Amazon to oil and gas interests (an area equal to the size of California).

Until recently, Peruvian petroleum projects were resulting in massive quantities of contaminated wastewater, totaling 1 million barrels per day, being dumped directly into local rivers. Protests by aboriginal groups ended with new agreements to inject the contaminated water back underground as oil is extracted, but the threats to the water system continue.

Of the 39 active operations currently underway, all but 8 were launched in past three years. That rate of expansion is expected to continue, and will inevitably cause more water diversions, greater deforestation, and increased risks of spills and dumping that will threaten not only local waters, but the lower reaches of the river.

Peru is home to the very source of the Amazon, and any degradation of the river caused by Peruvian oil and gas will be carried down river to impact the health of downstream ecosystems potentially as far as Brazil, undermining more progressive conservation policies currently underway.

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