Ecuador’s National Assembly on Thursday gave the go-ahead to drill in the Yasuni National Park, after failing to secure international compensation for leaving it untouched.
President Rafael Correa asked the assembly in mid-August to allow the move, after a call went unanswered for developed countries to pay Ecuador for not drilling in the nature reserve.
The Yasuni park in the east of the country has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve for its exceptional biodiversity, and is home to several indigenous tribes.
But in the six years since Ecuador launched the ITT-Initiative, named after the three oilfields of Ishpingo, Tiputini and Tambococha under the park, pledges have only reached 13.3 million dollars, or 0.37 per cent of the target, prompting Correa to abandon the project.
The deposits are expected to yield profits of 18.3 billion dollars, with extraction to start in five years.
Thursday’s legislation, passed by 108 votes to 25, would allow drilling in 0.1 per cent of the park’s surface, and excludes a large section in the middle of the area which is to be left untouched.
The operation was in the national interest, and would be carried out by a state oil company, the assembly said.
Proceeds should go to the development of communities in the area, and to support the government’s proposed changes to the country’s production and energy infrastructure, lawmakers said.
If oil workers see any members of the region’s uncontacted tribes, activity in that area should cease immediately, one of the resolutions said.
Two of the tribes in the park, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, have had no known contact with industrialized society, and have asked — through other tribes — to be left in isolation.
Their request is enshrined in the country’s constitution, which qualifies as ethnocide any violation of those tribes’ way of life, including interference with their territories.
The bill now only needs the approval of the president to be signed into law.
Environmentalists, youth activists and indigenous rights’ groups have threatened to gather a petition of 500,000 signatures against the move, which would trigger a referendum.