QUITO – Ecuador’s Environment Ministry has signed a permit allowing state-owned Petroamazonas EP to begin preparations to develop two oil fields in the Amazon region.
The Tiputini field is located just outside the Yasuni National Park while the other site, Tambococha, is inside that UNESCO biosphere reserve, which environmentalists and indigenous groups say should be off-limits to oil drilling.
Production at Tiputini is expected to begin in March 2016.
Environment Minister Lorena Tapia said her department is fully prepared and able to “care for and preserve the country’s most important and best-monitored protected area.”
Plans to develop those two areas and a third field, Ishpingo, in that extremely bio-diverse region have sparked criticism from grassroots groups, who want to keep the oil in the ground to avert environmental damage.
The Yasunidos collective submitted thousands of signatures to election authorities in a bid to force a referendum on the ITT project, whose initials come from the three oil fields.
But the National Electoral Council refused to grant the request after invalidating thousands of signatures for different reasons.
After the permit was granted on Thursday, Yasunidos tweeted that the “Environment Ministry has signed a license to develop Yasuni ITT. Without a referendum, without democracy.”
Responding on Twitter, Minister Tapia invited “citizens to actively oversee” Petroamazonas EP’s activities in the area.
President Rafael Correa says oil development in Yasuni will be carried out with the best available technology to minimize the environmental impact.
Ecuador’s government revived the ITT project last year after saying the international community “failed” the country by not funding a scheme that would have compensated it for not developing those Amazon oil reserves.
“Regrettably, we must say that the world has failed us” because only $13.3 million in contributions were deposited in the trust set up for the initiative, Correa said last August.
Ecuador launched the Yasuni-ITT scheme six years ago, touting it as a way to avoid the emission of 407 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.