Pipeline gets license; protests get louder


Opponents of Ecuador’s effort to build a second crude-oil pipeline vow they’ll continue their fight despite suffering two reversals this month in their campaign to block the $1.1 billion project.

Their first blow came June 6, when a three-judge panel unanimously rejected a petition by environmental and human-rights organizations to halt plans for the 310-mile (500-km) Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline (OCP).

Then on June 7, Environment Minister Lourdes Luque granted an environmental license for the line, to be built by a consortium of seven energy-sector companies active in the Ecuadorian Amazon—Occidental Petroleum, Kerr-McGee, Repsol-YPF, Agip, Alberta Energy, Pérez Companc and Techint.

But since then, one of the local groups that sought the injunction, Acción Ecológica, announced it would appeal to Ecuador’s highest authority—the Constitutional Court. The group also says it will help organize marches, road blockages and other protest action.

The sparring follows a surge in opposition to the pipeline in recent weeks. Environmental groups staged protests in several Ecuadorian communities, sought the court injunction and called on three lenders—J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank and Deutsche Bank—to withdraw financing for the work.

Opponents argue the pipeline will endanger sensitive habitat—particularly as it passes through the Mindo region, site of prime conservation land northwest of Quito. (See “Ecuador signs controversial oil-pipeline contract” and “Ecuador’s Torres defends disputed pipeline route”—EcoAméricas, March ’01.)

Some critics want the pipeline project—and Ecuador’s oil development—stopped altogether. But others advocate rerouting the new line so it runs in large part alongside the country’s existing crude-oil conduit—the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline (Sote), which passes south of Quito. They argue this would spare prized land on the northern route such as the Mindo Nambillo reserve, site of world-renowned bird habitat, 16 miles (25 kms) northwest of Quito.

But in approving the license this month, government officials said pairing the new line with the Sote line would create greater risks. A major one, they say, is the danger of a huge spill involving both pipelines. At the licensing ceremony in the Government Palace, Luque said it is “scientifically proven that the northern route is the one of lesser environmental impact.”

The government asserts that the second crude line, designed to carry up to 450,000 barrels per day, will remove a potentially debilitating bottleneck limiting oil production and, thus, Ecuador’s oil-based economy. It insists it is taking unprecedented pains to prevent damage to project-area land, some of which it acknowledges is highly sensitive.

Officials point out that the Environment Ministry made 72 comments on the impact statement, addressing issues ranging from plant life to public hearings. And the impact statement underwent a technical review by experts from institutions including the Smithsonian and the University of Calgary. (The results of this review have yet to be made public.) The license was granted, officials say, only after Entrix, the environmental consulting firm for the consortium, answered comments and incorporated suggestions into the statement.

Five NGOs here—Fundación Natura, Ambiente y Sociedad, Cesia, Ecociencia y Maquipucuna—took issue with the impact statement in a study conducted with World Wildlife Fund assistance. They fault the document for failing to, among other things, fully address secondary impacts, detail how the project will be made to follow international environmental standards and compare alternative pipeline routes. (Though a comparison ultimately was made at the government’s request, opponents consider it flawed.)

“The study should be specific, confront problems [and] identify the environmental reality along the entire route,” says Ricardo Moreno, Fundación Natura’s president. Critics also assert the government was hasty far too hasty in its review of the impact statement.

Entrix Manager Miguel Alemán insists the environmental study used internationally accepted methods, resulting in lands along the route being carefully categorized to ensure proper protection. But such assurances are unlikely to placate opponents. This month, owners of tourism businesses in San Miguel de los Bancos, northwest of Quito, launched their own attempt to obtain a court injunction.

Comité Pro Ruta Menor Impacto, a coalition of groups opposed to the northern route, vows to continue making its case even though the environmental license was granted. Says member Jacob Olander: “Our organizations will continue working and exploring all avenues to ensure construction of the oil pipeline meets the highest environmental standards.”

- Mercedes Alvaro

Ana Albán Mora
Environment Ministry
Quito, Ecuador
Tel: +(593 2) 256-3462, 3423, 3429, 3430, 4943, 3487; 250-7630; 252-9845
Fax: +(593 2) 250-0041
Email: mma@ambiente.gov.ec
Website: www.ambiente.gov.ec
Miguel Alemán
Entrix Ecuador
Tel: +(59 32) 508-806
Email: MAleman@entrix.com
Hernán Lara
OCP Ecuador
Tel: +(59 32) 468-707
Email: hlara@ocp-ec.com
Jacob Olander
Comité Pro Ruta Menor Impacto (Coalition for a Lower-Impact Route)
Tel: +(59 32) 522-693
Email: pipeline@ecnet.ec
Ivone Ramos
Acción Ecológica (Ecological Action)
Tel: +(59 32) 547-516
Email: amazonia@hoy.net
Pablo Terán
Energy Minister
Quito, Ecuador
Tel: +(59 32) 550-018
Email: Csocialmen@andinanet.net