News / USA

Ecuador Leaves Oil Riches in Ground to Save Ecosystem

Seeks compensation from other governments

Oil pipes across the Ecuadorian jungle
Oil pipes across the Ecuadorian jungle


Rosanne Skirble

Ecuador’s decision to forego potentially lucrative oil drilling in the Amazon forest in order to protect a biologically rich and fragile ecosystem is the focus of two documentaries at the Washington Environmental Film Festival.

The decision represents a huge sacrifice for a small South American country which earns half its export revenues from oil.

In 2007, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa boldly halted operations at one of the country’s most promising wells. That amounts to 25 percent of Ecuador’s known oil reserves, which works out to about 846 million barrels of crude. The oil sits below Yasuni National Park, one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.

'Two Seconds of Life'

In return Ecuador wants compensation, says Leonardo Wild, an American-born filmmaker who lives in Ecuador. The story unfolds in his documentary, "Two Seconds of Life”" Every two seconds, one hectare of  Amazon rainforest is lost. That’s where the film gets its name.

"If you say Ecuador’s idea is to make $7 billion with the oil profits, they say the world should give half of that or 3.5 billion and Ecuador would give the other 3.5 (billion) by leaving the oil in the ground."

A trust fund has already been set up by the United Nations to manage any money that world governments decide to donate to compensate Equador for leaving oil in the ground. Those funds would be spent on projects that address global warming, deforestation, biodiversity and the alleviation of poverty among Ecuador’s indigenous people.  

In "Two Seconds of Life," we see what’s at stake as we move deep into the rainforest with Waorani Indian guide Penti Bahira, whose ancestors have lived here for more than 1,000 years.   

Judea Lawton, a Washington resident, watched the film at the Ecuadorian Embassy. "We’ve had enough of money and exploitation being the basis for what we do. We need to preserve mother earth and we need to preserve the cultures of people who have been here for thousands of years. I think it is a really important initiative."

'A Future Without Oil'

Ecuador’s plan not to exploit oil requires support from the global community. In "A Future without Oil," French filmmaker Laetitia Moreau joins the Ecuadorian negotiators as they seek partners in Europe and the United States. She says it is not an easy sell.

"There are moments in the negotiations," she says, "that you really feel how difficult it is for a small country to put forward a breakthrough idea on the international stage."

The team sees promise in Norway. The Scandinavian country has offshore oil reserves and invests heavily in reforestation. Moreau says the Ecuadorians are confident that they have common interests, but they leave empty-handed and disappointed.

"They get a cold diplomatic reception for the idea. That was a hard blow for the Ecuadorian team because they came with a lot of enthusiasm."

Hard sell

The movie proceeds like a boxing match, with rounds fought in Germany, Belgium, Spain and the United States. As negotiators face a deadline to close the deal, they struggle to convince foreign governments to invest. Moreau hopes the documentary helps filmgoers understand that the Ecuadorian initiative represents a vision of a future without oil.  

"I want people who see the movie to think about all these problems in a different way and what Ecuador is doing is an out of the mold energy solution."

Tom McGlynn was among some 200 people who watched the movie at a World Bank screening in Washington. He supports the initiative, but sees an obvious roadblock. "The global economies are in such rough straights right now, it is a challenge to get people to pony up the funds to do this when everyone is in deficit spending right now."

Even if his country’s proposal fails to attract sufficient funds right now, the Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States argues that Ecuador has already set an example that other nations can follow.

"That we, as all Ecuadorians, are very respectful of nature," says Luis Gallegos, "very respectful of what comes with nature and the responsibility of people must have in preserving and conserving and making a sustainable environment."

The Correa government in Ecuador will evaluate the initiative at the end of the year and then make a decision on whether or not to proceed with oil drilling in the Amazon.

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs