“It is also a reminder for oil companies and investors that expanding oil extraction in Ecuador’s Amazon is a risk and full of potential legal liabilities,” said Amazon Watch’s climate and energy director.
The advocacy group Amazon Watch celebrated Wednesday after Ecuador’s top court struck down parts of a 2019 decree that would have allowed oil drilling in an area that is protected for isolated Indigenous peoples.
Amazon Watch climate and energy director Kevin Koenig called the Constitutional Court of Ecuador’s decision “a major victory for Indigenous peoples and an important step in protecting some of the most environmentally fragile and culturally sensitive places in the Amazon.”
“It is also a reminder for oil companies and investors that expanding oil extraction in Ecuador’s Amazon is a risk and full of potential legal liabilities,” Koenig added.
The government of former Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno asked the public seven questions in February 2018. One was about expanding the Zona Intangible Tagaeri-Taromenane (ZITT)—a protected area created for the Tagaeri and Taromenane—and reducing oil extraction in Yasuní National Park.
As Mongabay reported the following year:
More than 67% of the population voted yes, and many thought this created a legal tool in which to claim more rights for nature and Yasuní.
In May, President Moreno finally signed Decree 751, which detailed this expansion of 59,000 hectares (145,800 acres) in the east of the park—but said nothing about scaling back oil extraction activity. Instead, it included an extra clause that now allows oil platforms to be constructed within the buffer zone of the ZITT.
Tarsicio Granizo, who was the environment minister during the referendum and worked with the Moreno government on the question, told Mongabay that only low-impact activities are permitted in the buffer zone and the oil platform clause wasn’t part of the initial plan.
“This is a goal for the oil industry,” he said at the time. “This new decree opens the door for new operations [in the buffer zone], so for me this is a regression of rights. This could be considered unconstitutional.”
More than two years later, all but one member of the country’s high court agreed, a development cheered by environmentalists and supporters of Indigenous rights within and beyond Ecuador.
“Finally some justice for the isolated Indigenous peoples of Yasuní!” tweeted Pedro Bermeo, a spokesperson for YASunidos.
“Although the court leaves aside many very important aspects of the case by declaring it unconstitutional only for questions of form and not of substance,” Bermeo added, “it is a major victory for all of us who dedicate ourselves to the defense of… the Yasuní.”
2. ¡Qué está prohibida todo tipo de actividad extractiva dentro de la franja de amortiguamiento de la ZITT!
— Pedro Bermeo G (@PedroBermeoG) February 1, 2022
Koenig of Amazon Watch noted that “any drilling in Yasuní National Park is an existential threat to the peoples living in isolation, who have deforestation and destruction at their doorstep.”
The court’s decision, he said, “may very well protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane from ethnocide.”
While welcoming the win, Koenig also pointed out that the decision “does not curtail drilling in other areas of Yasuní National Park,” which is “widely considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet” and part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
“Eight oil concessions overlap the park,” the campaigner explained, “and plans are underway to drill 600+ wells in the Ishpingo, Tambococha Tiputini fields, known as Block 43.”
Moira Birss, another director at Amazon Watch, highlighted on Twitter that celebrations of the court decision came as the country is dealing with an oil spill in the Amazon rainforest.
Fortunately Ecuador’s Constitutional Court provided some hope for the Amazon, Indigenous peoples & the climate when it struck down a gov’t plan to allow oil drilling in a protected area for Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation in the Amazon.https://t.co/l2goTltMTi
— Moira Birss she/ella (@moira_kb) February 2, 2022
As Common Dreams reported over the weekend, Indigenous environmental defenders in Ecuador said the pipeline rupture is “the exact reason why we oppose oil extraction.”