Amazon Oil Rush: The Environmental Battle Beneath the Canopy

Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) Summit
Eight Amazon rainforest nations gathered to discuss topics related to deforestation and oil exploration in the region. The summit happened in Brazil in the city of Belem and mobilized heads of state from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela for a two-day gathering.

During the summit, the Brazilian President Lula, made deforestation a central topic of discussion, urging the participating countries to commit to ending deforestation by 2030. Meanwhile, the President of Colombia Gustavo Petro, urged Lula to halt all new oil development in the Amazon. Brazil is currently considering whether to exploit a potentially massive offshore oil discovery near the mouth of the Amazon River. While Colombia and Brazil held opposing positions, the Belem Declaration, issued after the summit, did not address the issue of halting oil exploration, and no consensus was reached on the topic.

Colombia stands out as the first oil-rich country to discontinue exploration within its borders. President Petro is pushing the country towards a new energy plan that involves discontinuing all new exploration projects. He advocates for the adoption of new renewable energy sources and technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture, and wind power. This shift in direction could position Colombia ahead of many of its oil-producing neighbors in the future.

Following a similar path, Ecuador, another oil-producing country in the Amazon region, held a historic referendum to halt drilling in the Amazon reserve. Nearly 60% of the population voted in favor of halting drilling. The country’s two main indigenous organizations, Confeniae and Conaie, celebrated the decision on social media, proclaiming, “Today Ecuador takes a giant step to protect life, biodiversity, and indigenous people.” Drilling in “Block 43” is responsible for 12% of the country’s oil production. This block is situated within a reserve spanning over 1 million hectares, home to three of the world’s last uncontacted indigenous populations and a diverse array of plant and animal species. This includes the Waorani and Kichwa tribes, as well as the Tagaeri, Taromenane, and Dugakaeri, who have opted to live in isolation from the modern world. Some locals in Yasuni were divided, with some supporting oil exploration in the reserve due to a perceived lack of alternatives. It remains crucial to present sustainable development options to these communities, showing them how we can develop in a sustainable way.

On the other hand, consider the case of Guyana, a small country that experienced a 62% growth rate due to the discovery of oil off its coast. The oil company responsible for exploration in the country, Exxon Mobil, has been found in breach of oil-spill insurance requirements. High Court Justice, Sandil Kissoon, stated that Exxon “engaged in a disingenuous attempt” to dilute its obligations under its environmental permit for the Liza One project, which marked the beginning of Guyana’s oil production in 2019. Instead of focusing on creating renewable energy sources and a green economy, Guyana is anchoring its economy on crude oil exports. Nevertheless, the world is rapidly transforming, and oil is expected to become a less significant source of energy. Without sustainable alternatives, these economies may encounter severe consequences in the future.

Heading south, Brazil is also grappling with the same debate. President Lula, elected on a platform of promoting a sustainable economy and environmental preservation, faced internal division within his government when the environmental agency, Ibama, rejected a company’s request to drill near the mouth of the Amazon River. Lula expressed skepticism about the environmental impact of offshore oil exploration in the Amazon basin, given its distance from the rainforest. However, he emphasized that drilling would not proceed if it posed a threat to the Amazon. This region is ecologically significant, boasting a vast coral reef with many unknown species of animals. Furthermore, numerous indigenous communities in proximity to the area oppose further exploration. In the event of a spill, the impact would extend not only to Brazil but also to neighboring countries due to marine currents, potentially affecting Caribbean nations.

Despite the associated risks, the Brazilian government is still considering the possibility of exploration. The potential profits could position Brazil the fourth-largest player in oil exploration. With several alternatives to generate income without risking human lives and the ecosystem, the question arises: Is such exploration truly necessary?

The current problems involving oil exploration and pipelines
An investigation by Mongabay Latam has identified at least 109 spill sites overlapping with 15 protected natural areas in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Additionally, there are 561 environmental concerns in areas belonging to 50 native communities. In the Amazon forest, nearly 3,000 kilometers of pipelines traverse many of the countries in the region, cutting across over 200 indigenous communities. As a consequence, these pipelines have led to soil and water contamination and have caused significant harm to both the ecosystem and local communities when spills occur.

Oil pipeline in the Amazon Rainforest | AI Generated Image | ENTER does not own the copyright to this image. This image is purely educational. | Microsoft Bing

In Ecuador, pollution hotspots are also present in these protected territories, bringing the total to 404 sites in 17 communities and 969 “sources of contamination” in 51 native territories. Nicolas Mainville, a biologist with Amazon Frontlines, underscores that “Governments and companies don’t fully grasp the environmental impact of numerous spills from waste pits and pools.” He further notes that pollution migrates and enters the food chain of indigenous peoples, highlighting the interconnectedness of the entire Amazon basin through the movement of fish and other animals.

A green response to the oil economy:
In conclusion, the Amazon region finds itself at a critical crossroads, with decisions made today poised to shape its future in profound ways. Recent developments in various Amazonian nations, underscore the growing awareness of the environmental and social costs associated with oil exploration. From Colombia’s shift towards renewable energy to Ecuador’s historic referendum against drilling, underscore the growing awareness of the environmental and social costs associated with oil exploration.

As we grapple with the challenges of oil exploration and pipelines, it is clear that governments and companies grasp the far-reaching consequences of their actions. While the allure of oil revenue may be strong, the path to a sustainable future lies in embracing alternatives and innovative technologies.Latin America possesses the potential to lead the charge in alternative energy production, setting an example for the rest of the world. It is crucial that leaders recognize that the era of oil dominance is waning and that a green and sustainable future is not just desirable but also essential.

Prioritizing the protection of the Amazon rainforest, its unique biodiversity, and the rights of indigenous communities, we can collectively chart a course towards a more environmentally conscious and economically viable future for this vital region and the planet as a whole. The question we face is whether we are ready to take the necessary steps to safeguard the Amazon’s future and, in turn, our planet’s.


Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). (2023, September 6). Amazon summit avoids vetoing oil exploration.
CBS News. (2022, February 19). Ecuador votes to stop oil drilling in Amazon reserve.
Mongabay. (2023, September 13). Hundreds of oil spill sites threaten Amazon indigenous lands, protected areas.
Offshore Technology. (2023, August 4). Potential problems and Petro: The future of Colombian oil?
Reuters. (2023, August 25). Amazon oil history: Petrobras.
Reuters. (2023, February 16). Oil-rich Guyana expects annual economic growth over 25% coming years.