Go-ahead for Controversial Pipeline

Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency Ibama has said it has licensed a unit of the state-run oil company Petrobras to start building a controversial gas pipeline cutting through pristine Amazon forest.

Petrobras and environmentalists have quarrelled since 2001 over the planned 550-kilometre (345-mile) pipeline from the oil- and gas-producing region of Urucu in Amazonas state to the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state.

Petrobras plans to use the pipeline to supply gas-fired power plants in Porto Velho.

The company currently re-injects most of the 9.3 million cubic meters (12.16 million cubic yards) of natural gas it produces in Urucu.

The licence, given to a consortium controlled by Petrobras, runs until September 2009, Ibama said.

One prerequisite for the licence was a construction project that did not interfere with national forests. Also, the company will have to present a programme to avoid diseases spreading from construction workers to local Indian communities, and a programme of environmental education for workers.

Environmental non-governmental organisations have criticised the pipeline project for years, arguing it would open a corridor into untouched rain forest that is likely to attract thousands of illegal settlers and loggers and spoil the life of Indian tribes untouched by contact from the outside world.

Brushing aside the criticism, Petrobras President Sergio Gabrielli said last month that Urucu "is an example of the balance between oil exploration and the environment".

Roberto Smeraldo, head of the Brazilian affiliate of Friends of the Earth, said the transport of oil and gas through the Amazon has a serious impact on the environment.

"Oil and gas transport is dangerous in any situation. In a fragile ecosystem, this danger becomes even more intense," he said in August. It was not immediately clear if environmental groups would try to overturn the Ibama decision in courts.

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