Brazil's Controversial Belo Monte Dam Project To Displace Thousands in Amazon

“The world has failed us,” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa recently said regarding a missed opportunity to preserve pristine Amazon rainforest from oil development. The government offered to forgo drilling in the oil-rich region if the international community donated $3.6 billion to a preservation trust fund. The initiative reportedly raised only $13 million.

The proposal dates back to 2007, when the government agreed not to develop Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) field in Yasuní National Park. The idea was to reimburse the country for 50% of the opportunity cost – lost revenue – that would result from not developing the oil field.

Ecuador is the smallest Opec-producer country by volume with roughly 500,000 b/d of output, most of which is exported to the US. A lack of domestic refining capacity requires Ecuador to import finished products, effectively cannibalizing oil export revenue, which accounts for half the country’s export earnings and one-third of all tax revenue, according to the EIA.

At current production rates, Ecuador has about 45 years-worth of oil reserves remaining. Given the country’s oil revenue dependence and lack of international support for the ITT preservation initiative, Correa decided to pull the plug.

Some questioned the program’s sustainability and legitimacy from the beginning, suggesting future government officials might simply develop the field anyway. Or perhaps Correa never expected the international community to pony up enough cash, thus providing political cover to develop the field while blaming others for failing to prevent it.