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article imageEcuador comes up with unique oil plan - leave it in the ground

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 11, 2010 in Environment
Quito - Ecuador has as-yet untapped crude oil resources, and an estimated 846 million barrels lie below a very special place called the Yasuni National Park.
Designated as a United Nations biosphere, the Yasuni National Park is a jungle located in the Amazon basin, and is home to some of the world's last indigenous peoples who still live traditional lifestyles. "... the most biologically diverse forest on the planet" is also home to hundreds of species of animals and plants.
Underneath this biological treasure, which environmentalists call "green gold," lies black gold, desired as a source of energy around the world. There is no shortage of companies lining up to get a share of the crude oil to be found in this region of the Amazon. American Occidental as well as state oil companies from Brazil, China, Columbia, Spain and Chile, not to mention Ecuador as well, are all very interested in getting a share of the oil reserves in the area, said SOS Yasuni.
Ecuador proposes keeping a portion of the Park area as an undeveloped preserve, and this portion is called the ITT Block - short for Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil fields. Ecuador is drilling oil in a portion of the Yasuni National Park already, but it has proposed leaving the ITT Block untouched.
The Independent reported that Ecuador first proposed "locking up" the ITT Block in 2007. Under the plan, the country would never develop the crude reserves, ensuring conservation of the Yasuni National Park. The bold plan that contradicts modern thinking about development will also mean global warming is lessened to a degree because less greenhouse gases will be released.
The President of Ecuador Rafael Correa is asking for the rest of the world to pay for the preservation of the rain forest, promising in return that the oil will be forever locked underground. Under Correa's plan, the world would pay Ecuador $350 million a year to keep the oil locked up. After ten years, the annual payment would decrease to reflect the reality of crude extraction.
Funds paid would go into the ITT Trust Fund, which will be administered by the United Nations Development Programme, after the agency agreed to take on the task last week.
While it appears that Ecuador is asking for a lot, the money Ecuador is seeking represents around half of the revenues the country would get if it allowed the oil to be extracted. It's thought the oil is worth $7 billion. And even though the plan has moved forward, actualization is far from certain. Ecuador’s Vice-President Lenín Moreno spoke at the signing of the agreement with the UNDP, saying "We still have to collect the funds for the initiative to become a reality. We need industrialized countries to understand, in a spirit of shared responsibility, that what we have decided this historic morning is a sacrifice for our country.”
UN's Under-Secretary-General, Rebeca Grynspan said the historic agreement marked a new way of thinking and behaviour between countries that will benefit everyone. “We are witnessing the inauguration of new instruments of cooperation which will act as a basis for supporting other national and international efforts directed towards the search for economies that are in harmony with society, nature and the planet."
However, the deal has raised concerns for Ecuador's Indigenous Achuar. They are afraid the ITT Trust Fund will see other areas of the Amazon opened up for oil extraction, including their lands reported the Environmental News Service. German Freire, president of the Achuar Indigenous people told ENS "We hope that the success of the Yasuni proposal doesn't mean a defeat for the forests and people of the southern rainforests. We don't want Correa to offset his lost income from leaving the ITT oil in the ground by opening up other areas of equally pristine indigenous lands."
Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, and Switzerland have already committed to the plan. It is thought the four countries will contribute about $1.5 billion to the ITT Trust Fund.
The Camana Bay Times reported earlier this year that the outcome of ITT Trust Fund was uncertain after President Correra expressed concern that some nations were "imposing conditions." The article said Correa was alienating nations that had initially promised support, as well as countrymen who were helping to create the plan.
Oil extraction in the Yasuni area has already created what has been coined the 'Yasuni Chernobyl.'
Contributions to the ITT Trust Fund are not limited to other governments. Individuals, non-governmental organizations and businesses can contribute to the fund. The website Yasuni ITT is supposed to be set up to accept donations.
The ITT Trust Fund initiative is supported by environmental organizations.
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