When you think of Peru you think of mountains, but in fact the vast majority, 70% of the country, is Amazon rainforest and it emerges that half of it has been leased out to multinational oil companies.
The Amazon contains the majority of the worlds fresh water and is the largest carbon sink in the world, protecting us against global warming. Parts of the country contain some of the most pristine and biodiverse rainforests on Earth according to Dr. Matt Finer of Save America’s Forests, who has spent years working as an ecologist in the rainforests of Peru and Ecuador. He explains that over 97 million acres of the Peruvian Amazon, about the size of California, is now zoned for oil and gas exploration and exploitation, “That represents well over one-half of the remaining intact Peruvian rainforest.” he states.
The majority of the oil exploration leases, numbering 39 in total, were signed in the later years of President Toledo’s administration when Peru lowered exploration royalties. This lowering triggered a rush of foreign multinationals including US giants Occidental, ConocoPhillips, Barrett, Harken, Hunt, and Amareda Hess as well as PlusPetrol of Argentina, Petrobras of Brazil, Repsol of Spain, Petrolifera of Canada, and Sipet of China to rush for new leases. These leases permit seismic studies and test drilling in remote areas of the jungle over the next 30-40 years.
The lands leased out for drilling and studies are not only prime virgin rainforest inhabited by endangered species such as the jaguar, but are also the ancestral homelands of dozens of indigenous tribes, many of which live in voluntary isolation to preserve their culture. As explained by Peru’s national indigenous Amazonian spokes-group (AIDESEP), these indigenous people inhabit the same region as recent oil discoveries have been made.
Of course, these indigenous communities oppose new oil development. The areas explored by the oil companies are often left devastated, polluted and with fish populations wiped out. Local people are left with various medical conditions and no access to treatment. Although denied by the oil companies, waste and oil are dumped in these pristine areas destroying everything. Where oil is not dumped, damage is caused by pipelines built through the habits of endangered species and local people.
The locals have little ability to complain, but due to increased pressure on the health of their people and their way of life, they are trying to fight back. Last year the Achuar people were able to shut down two operations of PlusPetrol Norte for 14 days. This was 50 percent of national production. This was brought on by PlusPetrol dumping as much as a million barrels of oil and chemical contaminated waste water directly into local rivers on a daily basis, seriously affecting the health of the Achuar who rely on the river for all their needs. PlusPetrol reluctantly accepted the peoples demands to invest in equipment to re-inject waste into the ground, and build a local hospital and to an emergency supply of food to those starving villages who’s traditional food source was wiped out. They also demanded that no more invasions of their territory by new drilling operations would take place but this was rejected by PlusPetrol with the support of the Peruvian Government. PlusPetrol have since filed charges against many of the Achuar for the blockade, alleging, “coercion, criminal trespassing, aggravated kidnapping, and assault against public security”.
Amazon Watch, an Amazon defence organisation based in San Francisco says, “These charges are disconcerting given the peaceful nature of the protest and the abundant evidence on the vulnerable health status of the Achuar people in Corrientes and the profound oil contamination of their territories. If the charges are allowed to stand, they would set a disturbing precedent against the right to peaceful protest in Peru.”
The rest of Achuar territory, the last refuge of these people as well as thousands of unique species plants and animals, has been carved up between various other oil companies.
PeruPetro alone has tendered applications for another 18 leases which will see all the untouched Amazon disappear.