Ecuador's Parliament Gives the Green Light to Oil Drilling in Yasuni

MPs authorise drilling in Amazon rainforest after failure of Rafael Correa's plan to persuade rich nations to protect it

Ecuador's parliament has authorised drilling of the nation's largest oilfields in part of the Amazon rainforest after the failure of President Rafael Correa's plan to have rich nations pay to avoid its exploitation.

Correa launched the initiative in 2007 to protect the Yasuni jungle area, which boasts some of the planet's most diverse wildlife, but scrapped it after attracting only a small fraction of the $3.6bn (£2.2bn) sought.

On Thursday the government-dominated National Assembly authorised drilling in two areas, but attached conditions to minimise the impact on the environment and local tribes.

Correa says the estimated $22bn earnings potential will be used to combat poverty, but there have been protests from indigenous groups and green campaigners. About 680,000 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum.

"We want them to respect our territory," Alicia Cauilla, a representative of the Waorani people who live around the Yasuni area, said in an appeal to the assembly. "Let us live how we want."

Correa has played down the potential impact of drilling in the area, saying it would affect only 0.01% of the Yasuni basin.

Correa has won broad popular support among Ecuador's poor with heavy spending on welfare, health, education and infrastructure projects. He says it is essential for the country to expand its oil reserves to allow more state spending.

Oil output in Opec's smallest member state has stagnated since 2010, when the government asked oil investors to sign less-profitable service contracts or leave the country. Since then, oil companies have not invested in exploration.

The state oil company Petroamazonas will be in charge of extraction in blocks 43 and 31, which are estimated to hold 800m barrels of crude and are projected to eventually yield 225,000 barrels a day. Ecuador currently produces 540,000 bpd.

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