Study: Peru Amazon entering into second energy boom

A new study examining hydrocarbon activities in Peru’s Amazon rainforest over the past 40 years says the region is in the early stages of a second energy boom that could have major environmental and social impacts.

The study, published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, says 42 of the 52 active Amazon hydrocarbon concessions were awarded between 2005 and 2009.  State hydrocarbons promotion agency Perupetro reportedly signed 13 new Amazonian contracts in both 2005 and 2006, setting single year contract signing records.

“More of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased to oil and gas companies in the past four years than at any other time on record,” wrote the authors of the study, Martí Orta-Martínez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Matt Finer of the Washington D.C.-based Save America’s Forests.

Maps of Peruvian Amazonia prepared last year by the Instituto del Bien Comun, IBC, clearly show the superposition of concessions to protected areas and Indigenous community lands.

Forty five of the concessions are in the exploration phase and seven in the operational phase, the study says. The hydrocarbon concessions at the end of last year covered 125,000 square miles, representing 41.2 percent of the Peruvian Amazon, up from 7.1 percent in 2003. The percentage of Peru’s Amazon covered in hydrocarbon concessions peaked in 2007 at 49 percent.

There are an additional 29 proposed concessions in Peru’s Amazon zoned for hydrocarbon activities. In total, active and proposed hydrocarbon zones cover about 70 percent of the country’s Amazon territory.

The first energy boom in Peru’s Amazon occurred in the 1970s. From 1972 to 1975, almost 40,000 miles of seismic lines were cut through the Amazon.

The region is one of the most biodiverse areas in the World and home to numerous indigenous ethnic groups. It includes 35 protected areas, 1,232 government-issued land titles for indigenous communities, and five reserves for the protection of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, according to the report.

“However, much of the Peruvian Amazon, including lower-level protected areas and titled indigenous lands, is now covered by active or proposed oil and gas concessions… only the 13 national parks and sanctuaries are strictly off-limits to oil and gas exploration and exploitation.”

Last May, for instance, Peru’s government signed a deal with Canadian energy company Petrolifera to explore almost 1,500 square miles of a remote part of Peru where uncontacted Cacataibo Indians live.

President Alan García has publicly suggested that uncontacted tribes don’t exist, saying they have been “invented” by “environmentalists” opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon.

“And against oil, they have created the figure of the ‘uncontacted’ native jungle dweller; that is, unknown but presumed, and thus millions of hectares cannot be explored, and Peru’s petroleum must remain underground while the world is paying US$90 per barrel. They prefer that Peru continue importing its oil and getting poorer,” García wrote in an October 2007 article published by daily El Comercio.

After García’s article was published, his administration began enacting several Executive decrees and other laws aimed at improving investment conditions for the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States.

The Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, and other Amazon groups demanded the repeal of the decrees they said infringe on their own territorial rights, including prior consultation as per an International Labor Organization convention, of which Peru is a signatory. Decree 1090, also known as the Forestry and Wildlife Law, is one of the most contentious, as it allows land to be sold if determined to be “of national interest.”

Congress did eventually repeal the laws on June 18, 2009, but not before 10 months of outright refusals followed by promises, postponements and backtracking that eventually led to the violent death of 24 police and 10 native protesters.

“Concession creation and subsequent project development without the previous consent of local peoples and potential health-related impacts – particularly for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, whose lack of resistance or immunity make them extremely vulnerable to illnesses brought by outsiders –are two of the most volatile hydrocarbon-related social issues,” Orta-Martínez and Finer said.

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