Ecuador's parliament has approved plans to open the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon to oil drilling, following a failed plan to make foreign countries pay for Ecuador to protect the region.
The Yasuni National Park, one of Ecuador’s most valuable ecosystems also covers the nation’s most abundant oil fields.
The government-dominated National Assembly has now authorized drilling in blocks 43 and 31, but attached conditions to minimize the impact on both the environment and local tribes.
Ecuador’s state oil company Petroamazonas will be in charge of the extraction of crude oil, estimated to amount to 800 million barrels adding some 225,000 barrels per day to Ecuador's daily oil production. Ecuador current oil production rate is 540,000 barrels per day.
In 2007, Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa launched an initiative to protect the Yasuni jungle, which boasts some of the planet's most diverse wildlife, but called it off earlier this year, saying only a small fraction of the $3.6 billion sought has been gathered.
Ecuador’s economy is heavily dependent on oil, with the Yasinu oil field believed to bring some $22 billion to the national budget. However, indigenous groups and environmental campaigners have already voiced their protest.
"We want them to respect our territory," Alicia Cauilla, a representative of the Waorani people who live around the Yasuni area, said in an appeal to the assembly. "Let us live how we want."
About 680,000 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum to decide about the future of the Yasuni National Park.