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A New Film Sheds Light On Oil Development In Ecuador

The question of resource development versus conservation is not a new one. And depending on where one lives, it may be a question that comes up monthly, weekly or even daily. Anyone who lives an area that has oil and gas is familiar with the controversies surrounding watersheds, fracking, emissions, erosion and a host of other issues that come with the development of fossil fuels. Advocates on both sides of these issues in the United States tend to limit their discussions to development here, and it is often all too easy to overlook foreign companies engaged in development overseas.

For the past seven years, biologist Ryan Killackey, a native of the United States, has been in the Yasuni biosphere reserve in Ecuador, creating the film Yasuni Man. The film documents the issue of resource development and its impacts on the environment and the people in that remote region, as oil companies from the United States and China seek to tap the reserves in the area.

Reserves worth approximately $7.2 billion have been discovered in the area, and in 2007, the government of Ecuador announced that it would leave the oil in place, if the global community would compensate it for doing so, by contributing at least half of the resource’s worth: $3.6 billion.

The idea, called the ITT Initiative (for the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini regions) raised only $13 million, and Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa put an end to the effort. Despite the support for leaving the oil untapped, in 2013 Correa approved drilling in the region, since only one percent of the reserve would be affected. The first wells in the project are now online, but have faced opposition.

Indigenous tribes have slowed the expansion of the work, and Yasuni Man is a call for the world to give those tribes support. The film highlights the local flora and fauna, and in particular, examines the lives of the an indigenous Waorani community. Killackey commented “I want this to be more than a documentary. I hope the data will be used to draw attention to Yasuni and help advocate for genuine preservation that works for the benefit of indigenous people.”

As the debate rages over oil development in the U.S., people on both sides of the issue may eschew the myopic view that development issues only matter within the boundaries of the United States. A global view of the development may cast the issue of domestic production in a clearer light.

Lincoln Brown for Oilprice.com

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