Amazonian Indigenous Peoples Reject Ecuador's Plans for New Oil Tender

Controversial oil auction and mining expansion denounced at Quito industry conference

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Quito, Ecuador – Representatives of six Indigenous nationalities traveled from their Amazonian communities to Quito this morning to reject plans by the new government of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno to auction off oil blocks that overlap their titled rainforest territories.

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Hydrocarbons, the Committee of Hydrocarbon Tender, and the state-run oil company Petroamazonas is promoting the plan to tender sixteen Amazonian oil blocks in a new licensing round dubbed the Ronda Suroriente (Southeastern Round) at an annual oil and mining industry gathering today, where they hope to entice investors to bid on what have been country's most problematic oil concessions.

The proposed blocks cover nearly seven million acres of roadless, primary forest in the southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon and the titled territories of the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Waorani, Shiwiar, and Sápara Indigenous nations. The region is home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet.

Map credit: Amazon Watch

Speaking outside the event, Marlon Vargas, President of CONFENAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon) said, "We reject new oil concessions in our territories. This is unconstitutional because we have not been consulted. Our people will continue to defend our spaces of life, Mother Earth, and our Pachamama. While we support the call made by President Lenin Moreno at the United Nations to protect the Amazon, it won't happen by concessioning oil blocks in Indigenous territories. We will fight and resist in defense of our territories and rights."

In none of the blocks has the Ecuadorian government obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the local Indigenous representative federations, the internationally-recognized human rights benchmark intended to protect the rights of Indigenous communities whose lives and lands are affected by extractive projects such as oil drilling. These plans and lack of consent – or even proper consultation – are also in direct violation of precedent and recent rulings from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Indigenous leaders also rejected the expansion of the mining sector in Ecuador's southern Amazon, which was touted by company executives and the Ministry of Mines at the conference. The forced removal of Shuar communities from their homes to make way for a workers' camp led to a deadly confrontation between the communities and Chinese mining company Explorcobres SA (EXSA) and a 60-day state of emergency in the Morona province last year.

"The Ecuadorian government is deceiving potential investors," said Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch. "These blocks are, in effect, stranded assets. There is a legacy of controversy and a long list of companies who have tried to drill and failed. The government's disregard for the rights of communities is not only illegal, but it is a recipe for disaster for companies that attempt to do business in one of the most pristine regions of the Amazon. Companies should know in advance that they're potentially buying a serious problem."

This is not the first time that Ecuador has sought to tender these blocks. Previous rounds were scrapped after protests and little interest from companies. Government road shows promoting the last attempt to auction the blocks in 2013 were met with protests in Quito, Houston, Paris, and Calgary. The round only solicited three bids.

Some of the blocks now included in the Ronda Suroriente had previously belonged to several oil company majors. But ARCO, Burlington Resources, ConocoPhillips, and independent CGC (Compania General de Combustibles) all faced on-the-ground resistance to their operations, as well as lawsuits, injunctions, and protests that paralyzed the projects, leading to significant work slippages, force majeure, and ultimately they abandoned their plans and left the country.

The auction is expected to officially open for bids in early 2018.

"With studies showing that two thirds of all fossil fuels need to remain in the ground to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, why is anyone looking for more?" said Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch. "The potential carbon emissions for the oil, gas, and coal in the world's currently operating fields and mines will take us past the 2°C of warming agreed to in the Paris Accord. Drilling for new 'frontier oil' on Indigenous territories would be catastrophic for the planet."

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