Oil Drilling in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador

Written at SFSU in 2017

Yasuni national park is a portion of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. The national park is known for its diverse ecosystem, which is home to countless species of plants, insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Yasuni is being exploited for a valuable resource, in the hopes of economic development for Ecuador. The drilling in the Yasuni National Park is a site of energy injustice as a result of environmental colonialism and sacrifice zones.

Toxic oil spill in Ecuador from Chevron (flickr, 2010)


The Yasuni National Park oil drilling has been one of the most controversial energy projects in recent years due to the environmental degradation and social justice implications it has on the indigenous communities in the Amazon. Originally, the President of Ecuador created an initiative, called the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini), areas in the Yasuni National Park, which asked international countries  that have contributed the most to the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to provide financial reparations [1]. However, this initiative was unsuccessful due to the lack of financial support from developed countries, who donated a total of 13 million dollars of the proposed 3.6 billon dollars that would be generated by the drilling of oil [2]. As a result, President Correra was forced to abandon the ITT initiative and granted the drilling of oil to a state based oil company know as PetroAmazonas [3].

A key reason in allowing the drilling for oil in the national park is the profit that it will provide for the impoverished country and the potential of providing economic advancement for the local communities[4]. The money earned from this drilling would provide over 7 billion dollars to the local communities, which would help to improve the existing social services in Ecuador [5].

Yasuni Lake
Oxbow Lake in Yasuni national park (flickr, 2012)

The People Affected

Although the local communities will benefit from the drilling, the ones most affected are the indigenous people that rely on the land to survive, in this particular case, the Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes [6]. These communities have been living on these lands for generations and have had zero contact with the outside world [7]. Both indigenous groups rely on the forest to sustain themselves. Some of the ways that the Tagaeri and Taromenane clans are affected is by decreasing the areas in which they reside. Each of these clans have remained out of contact with the  outside world for thousand of years, but with recent development both have been forced to move deeper in to the forest [8]. These disruptions, combined with the depleting resources then lead to conflicts, even escalating to violence, between both indigenous tribes because now they are having to compete with each other for land and resources [9].

Individuals protesting the Petroamazonas oil drilling in Yasuni national park (flickr, 2013)

The Effects on the Environment

Although President Correra states that only 1% of the forest will be affected, there will still be detrimental effects to the ecosystem [10]. Many individuals opposed this drilling because it will impact a variety of species in the Amazon, including various birds, mammals, trees, and amphibians [11]. There is also the clear issue of at carbon emissions that will now be released in to the atmosphere, which we have already passed at 400 ppm [12]. Deforestation is another major consequence that arises in order to build roads, not to mention the possibility of oil spills, which have been known to cause tremendous amount of damage to the environment [13].

Ameerega bilinguis, poisonous frogs in Yasuni nation park (flickr, 2014)

Impact Analysis

The controversy surrounding the Yasuni National Park drilling can be attributed to two environmental justice theories, environmental racism and sacrifice zones. This issue reflects environmental racism because both the Tagaeri and the Taromenane people bear most, if not all the costs of the oil drilling. The oil will only provide opportunities for individuals that live in urban and suburban areas and seek modernization, whereas the indigenous people are the ones having to endure the effects and struggle to survive for the progress of others. In choosing this particular site, there was very little consideration as to how this marginalized group of people will be impacted.

Petroamazonas oil drilling site (flickr, 2012)

Yasuni park oil drilling can also be seen as a “sacrifice zone” because it contains a valuable resource that could be used as a source of income. However, there is a lot more that is being sacrificed than just a plot of land. In this particular case, the native communities and the park itself are being sacrificed in order to provide the funds that Ecuador and its people desperately needs.  ¸The environment and once again, the indigenous communities are being sacrificed willingly for profit and wealth. These clans are ultimately being left to fend for themselves in an environment that would be without sufficient resources. Their land will be destroyed, their food sources depleted, and their water polluted.  These individuals and their environment are the ones bearing the most of the costs and the ones being most affected.


[1] Wallace. S. (2013). Ecuador Scraps Plan to Block Rain Forest Oil Drilling. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130819-ecuador-yasuni-rain-forest-oil-drilling-environment-science/

[2] Puig, J.F. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/sep/19/world-failed-ecuador-yasuni-initiative

[3] Vidal. J. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/04/ecuador-drills-for-oil-on-edge-of-pristine-rainforest-in-yasuni

[4] BBC News. (2014). Ecuador faces vote on Yasuni park oil drilling in Amazon. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26980524

[5]Singer, A. (2012).To Drill, or not to Drill?. The world failed Ecuador on its Yasuní initiative. Retrieved from http://blogs.worldwatch.org/sustainableprosperity/to-drill-or-not-to-drill

[6] Council on Hemipheric Affairs. (2013). Oil Drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park: Correa’s Drive Towards Development at Any Price. Retrieved from http://www.coha.org/oil-drilling-in-ecuadors-yasuni-national-park-correas-drive-towards-development-at-any-price/

[7] Hance. J. (2016). Ecuador begins pumping oil from famed ITT-block in Yasuní. Retrieved from https://news.mongabay.com/2016/09/ecuador-begins-pumping-oil-from-famed-itt-block-in-yasuni/

[8] Zuckerman. A. (2013). Rights and Responsibility: The Failure of Yasuní-ITT and What it Means for Ecuador’s Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved from http://amazonwatch.org/news/2013/0825-rights-and-responsibility-the-failure-of-yasuni

[9] Watts. J. (2013). Ecuador approves Yasuni national park oil drilling in Amazon rainforest. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/16/ecuador-approves-yasuni-amazon-oil-drilling

[10] Koenig. K. (2016). Drilling Towards Disaster: Ecuador’s Aggressive Amazonian Oil Push. Retrieved from http://amazonwatch.org/news/2016/0406-drilling-towards-disaster-ecuadors-aggressive-amazonian-oil-push

[11] Vaughan. A. (2014). Ecuador signs permits for oil drilling in Amazon’s Yasuni national park. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/23/ecuador-amazon-yasuni-national-park-oil-drill

[12] Ruiz. C. (2015). Paid Not to Drill? Not So Fast. Retrieved from https://whowhatwhy.org/2015/06/29/paid-not-to-drill-not-so-fast/

[13] Council on Hemipheric Affairs. (2013)


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