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Ecological Economics
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s e v i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / e c o l e c o n

Oil frontiers and indigenous resistance in the Peruvian Amazon


Martí Orta-Martínez a,⁎, Matt Finer b
a
ICTA, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Barcelona, Spain
b
Save America's Forests, 4 Library Court. NW, Washington DC 20003, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The Peruvian Amazon is culturally and biologically one of the most diverse regions on Earth. Since the 1920s
Received 7 December 2009 oil exploration and extraction in the region have threatened both biodiversity and indigenous peoples,
Received in revised form 19 April 2010 particularly those living in voluntary isolation. We argue that the phenomenon of peak oil, combined with
Accepted 26 April 2010
rising demand and consumption, is now pushing oil extraction into the most remote corners of the world.
Available online xxxx
Modern patterns of production and consumption and high oil prices are forcing a new oil exploratory boom
Keywords:
in the Peruvian Amazon. While conflicts spread on indigenous territories, new forms of resistance appear and
Commodity frontiers indigenous political organizations are born and become more powerful. The impacts of oil exploration and
Oil extraction exploitation and indigenous resistance throughout the oil history of the Peruvian Amazon are reviewed here,
Political ecology focusing on the Achuar people in Rio Corrientes. The driving forces, impacts, and responses to the current oil
Achuar exploration boom are analyzed from an environmental justice perspective. We conclude that, in a context of
Voluntary isolation peak oil and growing global demand for oil, such devastating effects for minor quantities of oil are likely to
Environmental liabilities increase and impact other remote parts of the world.
Identity politics
© 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Peak oil
Land titling
Participatory monitoring
Road-blocks

1. Introduction The first oil well in South America was drilled in the northern
pacific coast of Peru in 1863 in Zorritos, Tumbes department
Peru is the fourth largest country in tropical forest extension on Earth (Mogollón, 2008). Peru was the first oil producing country in South
(FAO, 2006) and has the second largest region of Amazonia after Brazil. America until 1924, and in 1930 Peru still ranked 9th as oil producer
Around 60 distinct groups of indigenous peoples inhabit the Peruvian around the world. Nevertheless, it was not until 1939 that oil
Amazon (INDEPA, 2009; INEI, 2008b). An estimated 14 or 15 of them exploitation started in the Peruvian Amazon. In 1939 the Ganso Azul
live in voluntary isolation (Defensoría del Pueblo, 2006; Finer and Orta- Oil Company started oil exploitation of the Aguas Calientes oil field
Martínez, 2010; Survival International, 2008), avoiding and resisting and in 1959 the El Oriente Peruvian Oil Company started exploitation
direct encounters with outsiders because of violent and deadly of the Maquia oil field (MEM, 1986).
experiences in earlier encounters with national society, and they are In addition to historical grievances, oil development may have
extremely vulnerable to diseases when contacted today (Napolitano been an important factor in the Ecuadorian–Peruvian war of 1941.
and Ryan, 2007). Peru is the second largest South American country in This was called the “Oil War” by Rumazo-González (1946), since it
number of ethnic groups in voluntary isolation after Brazil. Territorial occurred after Ecuador leased an oil block to Anglo-Saxon Petroleum
reserves for the protection of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation (Royal Dutch) and after Peruvian oil exploration started in the region.
cover 3.6% of the Peruvian Amazon. Moreover indigenous communities The new border established by the Rio de Janeiro Protocol of 1942,
with land titles cover 13.5% (IBC, 2009a). Such categories, together with implied a cut of 20% in the area of the Ecuadorian oil block.
natural protected areas, account for 35.2% of the Peruvian Amazon (IBC, The 1970s was a most intensive period in oil exploration in the
2009a). Hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation are legally possible history of the Peruvian Amazon (a first oil exploration boom), which
in all such categories, and only national parks and sanctuaries (10% of led to the most productive period between 1979 and 1985 (Finer and
the Peruvian Amazon) exclude oil and gas exploration and exploitation Orta-Martínez, 2010). Since then to today, a total of 674 wells have
(Benavides, 2009). On the contrary, logging activities are excluded in been drilled and over 105,000 km of seismic lines have been cut
territorial reserves to guarantee the survival of indigenous people in through the Peruvian Amazon (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). The
voluntary isolation. 1970s oil exploration boom in the Peruvian Amazon corresponds to
the first extensive wave of oil exploration in the Amazon. It coincided
⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: + 34 93 5812974; fax: +34 93 5813331. with the discovery of major commercial deposits in the northern part
E-mail address: martiorta@gmail.com (M. Orta-Martínez). of Ecuador close to Colombia's border, by the Texaco-Gulf consortium

0921-8009/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.04.022

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in 1967 (Sabin, 1998) and, in the northern Peruvian Amazon close to Until 2007 oil demand was growing in the world, and it is still growing
the Ecuadorian border by Occidental Petroleum Corporation and in the vast emerging markets in the developing world, such as China
Petroperú in 1971. and India. From about 87 million barrels/day in 2007 has gone down
The Peruvian Amazon is currently experiencing a new oil to about 85 million barrels/day in 2009. The main factors behind the
exploration boom, with an unprecedented extension of concessions. record-breaking increase in 2008 of oil prices remain in place and, if
In December 2009, 41.2% of the Peruvian Amazon was covered by oil the world economic recession comes to an end, oil prices will break
and gas concessions and 84% of the Peruvian Amazon had already records again. To prevent this scenario the oil industry agrees that
been under oil and gas contracts at some point in time between 1970 major investment in the exploration and development of new
and 2009 or was under technical evaluation agreements and under reserves, and easier access to new and promising territories for
negotiation (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). Even the most remote, exploration, are needed. They complain, for instance, that USA
intact and sensitive reaches of the Peruvian Amazon were covered by sanctions continue to impede investment in Iran; or that in the USA,
proposed or active oil and gas concessions that overlap with 55.2% of most coastal waters and much of Alaska have been off-limits to oil
the titled indigenous lands (see Table 1), 17.1% of the created reserves exploration (The Economist, 2009).
for indigenous people in voluntary isolation (see Table 2), 60.9% of the A scenario of sustained high world oil prices will allow the
proposed territorial reserves (see Table 2), and 17.1% of the protected economic development of unconventional resources (oil sands, oil
areas system (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). A similar pattern is shale, extra heavy oil, gas-to-liquids, and coal-to-liquids) and the use
affecting the whole western Amazon where about 180 oil and gas of enhanced oil recovery technologies to increase production of
blocks now cover 688,000 km2 (Finer et al., 2008). conventional resources. High oil prices will also permit the develop-
In this paper, from a world-system perspective (Hornborg et al., ment of additional conventional resources through technically
2007), we analyze the oil frontier in a context of peak oil and growing difficult, high-risk, and very expensive projects, including those
global demand for oil, and use concepts stemming from Ecological located in ultra-deep water and the Arctic (EIA, 2009c). In other
Economics and Political Ecology to understand the impacts, conflicts, words, a scenario of high world oil prices increases the profit margin
and resistance methods related to oil exploration and exploitation in and forces oil exploration into new “commodity frontiers” in new
the Peruvian Amazon. In Section 2, we analyze the Peruvian oil territories, such as the Amazon.
reserves as a non-renewable resource. In Section 3, we discuss oil The Peruvian Amazon oil peak was reached in 1979 at about
exploration and exploitation impacts in the Peruvian Amazon. In 129,000 barrels/day. There has been a steady decline in oil extraction
Section 4, we summarize oil impacts in the Achuar territory as a ever since (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). The high oil prices from
springboard for discussing, in Section 4.1, forms of resistance from this 2003 to 2008 were one of the causes of the second oil exploration
indigenous people to deal with such impacts. Finally, we discuss the boom (EIA, 2008). The first oil blocks for unconventional oil
regional and global patterns of oil expansion, and offer policy (Technical Evaluation Agreements I–IV) were leased in Peru in
alternatives against increasing oil extraction impacts and conflicts. February 2008, with 4 contracts that cover 66,001 km2 of the Peruvian
Amazon. Rising oil prices are also one of the causes that probable oil
2. Peak Oil and the Second Exploration Boom reserves (oil reserves are classified into proved reserves, probable
reserves and possible reserves; from less to more uncertainty) in the
Oil is the main energy source of modern societies, an essential Peruvian Amazon jumped in 2006 by 255 to nearly 465 million
input for the exosomatic energy metabolism of contemporary rich barrels. This increase is due to the addition of reserves from Block 67
economies. World economic growth reliance on fossil fuels has been (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). Exploration at Block 67 first
continuous over the last century and, consequently, oil world demand discovered commercial quantities of crude oil in the late 1990s. At
and consumption has been increasing steadily along the 20th century, the time, there was no decision to proceed but rising world oil prices
but there has been a decrease in new discoveries of conventional oil caused a re-evaluation of the area turning it into a financially feasible
reservoirs since 1960s (Tsoskounoglou et al., 2008). The recent project (EIA, 2008).
Brazilian pre-salt discovery in the Atlantic Ocean of about 50 billion Contrary to what happened after the first oil exploration boom in
barrels (EIA, 2009a), though certainly important for the Brazilian the Peruvian Amazon, even in a scenario of sustained high world oil
economy, would cover less than two years of world consumption. At prices, a second conventional oil extraction boom may not take place.
the same time, as with Alberta's oil sands, new oil extraction often Proved oil reserves in the Peruvian Amazon were 246.2 million barrels
shows a decreasing EROI (energy return on energy investment). There in 2007, have only increased by 60 million barrels in the last 10 years,
are increasing energy costs of oil exploration, extraction and export, and are considerably lower than in the early 1980s (Finer and Orta-
which depend on oil quality (API density) and location of oil fields Martínez, 2010). The Peruvian Amazon cumulative oil production
(Cleveland et al., 1984; Hall and Cleveland, 1981). These factors– accounts for 996 million barrels until end 2008 which is more than the
increasing world demand, decreasing reservoirs and EROI–generate a proved and probable oil reserves all together. Conventional oil
scissor effect, which will lead to an inevitable peaking of conventional extraction will remain steady or experience an increase for a while,
oil production, which in turn, can lead to an oil world supply shortage but it will likely not surpass the annual oil production records set in
and to an increasing oil price (Fig. 1). the late-1970s and early-1980s. Nevertheless, as oil price rise, even
Peak oil was described as early as 1949 by Hubbert (1949). The more of the Peruvian Amazon is likely to be under exploration and
theory is based on the fact that oil, as any other non-renewable resource, exploitation in the near future.
is finite. Oil is not produced but extracted. It is burnt, and the energy This analysis should also take into account that gas exploitation
produced is dissipated and cannot be used again. This energy does not has very different prospects. Although major discoveries of natural gas
come from current photosynthesis but it was accumulated in remote date from 1984, natural gas and natural gas liquids extraction began to
times. Hence, the bell-shaped nature of oil discoveries and extraction. increase markedly since 2005 and have certainly not peaked yet
Consequently, an increasing exploration effort and cost per unit of oil (Finer and Orta-Martínez, 2010). Its impacts in the Amazon are not
discovered are expected at first, followed by decreasing new discoveries dissimilar to those of oil.
and, finally, by decreasing oil extraction. The time lags between the
peaks of exploration, discovery and extraction can be predicted. 3. Oil Impacts in the Peruvian Amazon
Much of the world's conventional oil has already been extracted;
new discoveries tend to be smaller than in the past, take more time Oil related activities threaten environmental sustainability. They
and more expensive technology to develop, and they run dry faster. have also been identified as the cause of severe health impacts to local

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Table 1
Indigenous peoples whose titled territories were overlapped by hydrocarbon concessions in June 2009. Blocks with major protests organized by indigenous people over the past two
years that have been documented in the Peruvian press are indicated in bold.

Ethnolinguistic affiliation Ethnic group Operating company (Block)

Arawak Amuesha/Yanesha Pluspetrol (108), Petrolifera (107), Pan Andean (131), Petron (Area IV)
Asháninka Pluspetrol (56, 108), Repsol (57), Petrobras (110), Cepsa (114), True Energy (126),
Pan Andean (131), Pacific (138), Emerald (163), Petron (Area IV), Petrolifera (107)
Ashéninka Pluspetrol (108), Petrobras (110), True Energy (126)
Caquinte Repsol (57), Petrobras (58)
Machiguenga Pluspetrol (56, 88), Repsol (57), Hunt Oil (76), Petrobras (58, 110), Sapet (111)
Nomatsiguenga Pluspetrol (108), Petron (Area IV)
Piro (Yine) Repsol (57), Hunt Oil (76), Petrobras (110), Sapet (113), Kedcom (160)
Bora Bora (Bóóráá) Petroperú–Petrobras (Areas XXVII and XXVIII)
Cahuapana Chayahuita Talisman (103), Repsol (109), Cepsa (130)
Jebero Cepsa (130), Kei (144)
Candoshi Candoshi/Kandozi Talisman (64, 101), Cepsa (127, 130), Kei (144)
Harakmbut Amarakaeri Hunt Oil (76)
Arazaire Hunt Oil (76)
Harakmbut Hunt Oil (76)
Huachipaire Hunt Oil (76)
Huitoto Huitoto Petrobras (117), Gran Tierra (122), Petroperú–Petrobras
(Areas XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX)
Ocaina Petroperú and Petrobras (Areas XXVII and XXVIII)
Jíbaro Achuar Pluspetrol (8, 115, 1AB), Talisman (64, 101) Ramshorn Shona (102), Petrolifera (106),
Burlington (123), Cepsa (127), Hunt Oil (143)
Aguaruna/Awajun Talisman (103), Repsol (109), Hocol (116), Perenco (125), Kei (144), Olympic (145),
Petron (Area I)
Huambisa/Wampis Hocol (116), Petron (Area I)
Shapra (Chapara)/Candoshi-Murato Kei (144)
Pano Amahuaca Repsol (57), Petrobras (110), Sapet (111)
Cacataibo Pan Andean (131), Petron (Area III), Petrolifera (107)
Capanahua Talisman and Ecopetrol (134), Pacific (135)
Chintonahua Petrobras (110)
Isconahua Golden (132), PVEP (162)
Mayoruna/Matsés Pacific (135, 137, 152)
Shipibo-Conibo Consultora (100), Sapet (111), Cepsa (114), True Energy (126), Pan Andean (131, 161),
Golden (132), Pacific (138), Discovery (157), Kedcom (160), PVEP (162), Emerald (163),
Petron (Area III), Petrolifera (107), Maple (31B, 31E)
Yaminahua Petrobras (110)
Peba Yagua Yagua Petroperú–Petrobras (Areas XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX and XXX)
Quechua Quechua, Lamas Talisman (103), Perenco (125)
Quechua, Napo Petrobras (117), Perenco (121), Gran Tierra (122), Burlington (123), Petroperú–Petrobras
(Areas XXVI, XXIX and XXX)
Quechua, No Especificado Repsol (39), Petrolifera (106), Pluspetrol (108, 1AB), Sapet (111), Petrobras (117),
Burlington (123, 124), Petroperú–Petrobras (Areas XXVIII, XXIX, XXX and XXXI)
Quechua, Pastaza Talisman (101), Ramshorn (102), Hunt Oil (143), Pluspetrol (1AB), Cepsa (127, 130)
Shimaco Urarina Pluspetrol (8), Petrolifera (106), Cepsa (127)
Tacana Ese Eja Hunt Oil (76), Sapet (111), Discovery (157)
Ticuna Ticuna Petroperú and Petrobras (Area XXVII)
Tucano Orejón (Mae Juna) Petroperú and Petrobras (Area XXIX)
Secoya Petrobras (117), Petroperú–Petrobras (Area XXXI)
Tupi-GuaranÍ Cocama-Cocamilla/ Kukama-Kukamiria Petrolifera (106), Cepsa (127, 130), Gran Tierra (122), Burlington (123, 124),
Talisman-Ecopetrol (134), Petroperú–Petrobras (Areas XXIX, XXVI and XXVIII)
Záparo Arabela Repsol (39), Perenco (67)
Iquito Burlington (123, 124)

people due to oil pollution (Hurtig and San Sebastián, 2002, 2004; Impacts of oil extraction are usually considered long-term and
San-Sebastián et al., 2001; San-Sebastián et al., 2002), sexual abuses chronic, while potential impacts of exploration (from seismic lines
by the workforce, and prostitution (Beristain et al., 2009; Jobin, 2003). and exploration drilling) are considered low-level, short-term and
The court case against Chevron–Texaco in Ecuador had done much to transient (UNEP-IE/E&P-Forum, 1997). However, the extraction
document such practices. However, the impact of oil activities on affects small areas, while exploration affects vast expanses. Besides,
indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon has been poorly described. oil exploration activities have contributed to several cases of contact
The combination of endemic hepatitis B with acute intoxication due to with indigenous people in voluntary isolation and the ensuing
oil industry byproducts was found to be the likely cause of death in 21 outbreaks of new diseases with high rates of mortality. The firsts
children in a Kichwa community in 1AB oil block (Álvarez-Alonso, documented case was in 1965 when Shell contacted non-identified
personal communication; Álvarez-Alonso, 2008). Also in the northern groups in Río Amigo (Madre de Dios). Also in Madre de Dios,
Peruvian Amazon, a virulent hepatitis D epidemic among the International Petroleum Company (IPC) contacted Amahuaca in 1967
Candoshi was caused likely by the exploration activities conducted and, in 1973, Andes Petroleum Company contacted Toyeri (Harakm-
by Oxy during 1994–1995 in Block 4; activities conducted despite the but). In the 1970s, Total contacted Yaminahua in Block 39, in the
opposition of the local indigenous people (Surrallés, 2007). The oil central Peruvian Amazon. Also in the 1980s Shell, working in Blocks
industry often fails to respect the right to free, prior and informed 38 and 42 (also in the central Peruvian Amazon) contacted Nahua and
consent (the FPIC) as established by Convention 169 of ILO and now Kirineri — these contacts, jointly with those caused by illegal logging,
required by the UN Indigenous People Declaration (ILO, 1989; UN, resulted in 40–60% mortality among them (Defensoría del Pueblo,
2007; UNPFII, 2009). 2006; Napolitano, 2007; Napolitano and Ryan, 2007). In 1996, a

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Table 2
a. Oil and gas concessions from 2000 to 2009 overlapping existing and proposed territorial reserves for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. b. Operating companies and
existing and proposed territorial reserve for each oil and gas concession.

a b

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Oil and gas Operating Territorial
concession company reserve

Oil and gas concessions 88 88 88 88 88 88 88 88 88 88 88 Pluspetrol Kugapakori-


overlapping territorial Nahua TR
reserves (TR) 99 99 113 113 113 113 113 113 Sapet Madre de
Dios TR
110 110 110 110 110 110 Petrobras Murunahua
TR
138 138 138 138 Pacific Isconahua TR
132A/ 132A/ Golden Isconahua TR
132B 132B
99 Perez Isconahua TR
Compac
TR overlapped (ha) 105,254 214,308 214,308 105,254 105,335 1,205,786 1,205,786 1,225,344 1,225,344 1,227,426
TR overlapped (%) 3.59 7.32 7.32 3.59 3.60 41.18 41.18 41.85 41.85 17.09

Oil and gas concessions 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B 31B/31D Maple Kapanawa
overlapping territorial TRP
reserves proposed 39 39 39 39 39 39 39 39 39 39 39 Barrett/ Napo Tigre
(TRP) Repsol TRP
67 67 67 67 67 67 67 67 67 67 67 Barrett/ Napo Tigre
Perenco TRP
31E 31E 31E 31E 31E 31E 31E 31E 31E 31E Maple Kapanawa
TRP
95 95 95 95 95 95 Harken Yavarí
Tapiche TRP
104 104 104 104 107 104 Burlington Napo Tigre
TRP
107 107 107 107 121 107 Petrolifera Cacataibo
TRP
121 121 121 128 121 Perenco Napo Tigre
TRP
128 128 128 117 128 Gran Yavarí Mirím
Tierra TRP
117 117 117 135 117 Petrobras Napo Tigre
TRP
119 119 135 137 119 Amerada Kapanawa
Hess TRP
120 120 137 Area III 120 Amerada Kapanawa
Hess TRP
135 142 132A/ 135 Pacific Yavarí
132B Tapiche TRP
137 Area III 162 137 Pacific Yavarí
Tapiche TRP
142 133 142 Occidental Yavarí Mirím
TRP
Area III Petron Cacataibo
TRP
TRP overlapped (ha) 775,113 813,105 813,105 813,105 775,667 873,673 1,621,141 3,477,160 3,488,471 2,593,844 132A/ Golden Kapanawa
132B TRP/Yavarí
Tapiche TRP
TRP overlapped (%) 18.39 19.29 19.29 19.29 18.40 20.73 38.46 82.49 82.76 60.92 162 PVEP Kapanawa
TRP
133 Petrolifera Cacataibo
TRP

number of contacts with the Mashco-piro were recorded in Block 77 indigenous peoples also suffer migration into their territory since oil
(Mobil) in the southern Peruvian Amazon. The authors of the present opens access to human settlement (agriculture, cattle and hunting)
article heard from Achuar informers thay they witnessed new and illegal logging, which also prevent them from coming back after
contacts during seismic testing by Pluspetrol in block 1AB in the forcing their migration. Their land is almost “empty” and therefore
late 1990s. A recent suspected case is due to Petrolifera, a Canadian oil appears available to anyone. Ecological economics emphasizes that
company, working in Block 107 that contacted Cacataibo peoples open access resources –not the community property (commons)
inside the Cacataibo Territorial Reserve (IBC, 2009b). Also the risk in which is under rules to avoid overexploitation–, are increasingly
Blocks 39 and 67 (next to Yasuní ITT in Ecuador) is nowadays of major exploited since there is no incentive for conservation because the
concern (Álvarez-Alonso, 2004; Casafranca, 2008). Numerous con- costs of overexploitation would be suffered by everybody, whereas
cessions currently overlap with a substantial number of Territorial the revenue would be appropriated by the users (Berkes et al. 1989;
Reserves and proposed Territorial Reserves (Table 2). Ciriacy‐Wantrup and Bishop 1975; Hardin 1968; Martínez‐Alier and
Oil exploration puts health of those living in voluntary isolation at Roca Jusmet 2001). This view supports the conservationist thesis that
risk due to ‘novel’ diseases introduced by outsiders. Isolated secure and enforceable tenure by indigenous communities might help

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Fig. 1. World Nominal Oil Price: 1970–2010.


Source: US Energy Information Administration.

prevent resource degradation by excluding outsider users (Hames, Also, power asymmetries, uncertainties and ignorance in the
2007). remote oil frontier must be taken into account. Local impact
To sum up, oil exploration can no longer be considered a transient monitoring and assessment capacities are limited by the presence of
activity, with impacts that can be corrected. In the Amazon, oil oil firms and the absence of the State. The role of Christian
exploration is an irreversible process not only because of (often missionaries either abetting oil exploration (Finer et al., 2009b), or
unknown) loss of biodiversity but also no less importantly because of reproving its effects, is a symptom of the absence of the State. The new
impacts on human life and cultural diversity. Illegal logging has been needs of the communities (health assistance, zinc roofs) are often
considered the main factor jeopardizing the survival of indigenous provided for by the oil companies, not the State, which is handicapped
peoples in voluntary isolation during the last decades (Defensoría del by lack of resources and technical incompetence and corruption
Pueblo, 2006). However, increasing hydrocarbon concessions are also (Transparency International, 2009). Cutting edge technologies and
a main threat to indigenous people in voluntary isolation, by opening improved regulations and standards are not implemented in those
up the frontiers through seismic lines. remote areas (La Torre López and Napolitano, 2007). Therefore,
One of the major effects of oil activities on biodiversity conserva- empowerment of local people becomes a key factor to ensure
tion is likely to be an indirect effect due to indigenous people's loss of improved regulations and standards implementation.
traditional ecological knowledge, epistemological assimilation, and
especially, integration to the market economy (Finer and Orta- 4. Oil Conflicts in the Northern Peruvian Amazon
Martínez, 2010; Suarez et al., 2009). Cultural diversity seems to be
closely related to biodiversity conservation. Several studies have The ancestral territories of the Achuar, Kichwa and Urarina
shown the association between high biodiversity and the distribution indigenous people in the Corrientes River (organized in the
of native peoples and therefore, cultural degradation has been posited Indigenous Communities from the Corrientes River Federation,
to be a source of biodiversity loss (Toledo, 2001). Skipping the debate FECONACO in the Spanish acronym), in the northern Peruvian
around indigenous people being intentionally conservationists or not, Amazon, have been affected by the oil industry since the end of the
what is generally accepted is that due to their simple technology and 1960s. The concessions 1AB and 8 (first held by Occidental Petroleum
lack of access to external markets, indigenous people prevent over- Corporation -Oxy- and PetroPeru, then transferred to Pluspetrol
exploitation in comparison to western societies. Among conserva- Corporation S.A. in 1996 and 2001) were drawn over their territories.
tionists, there is concern on how cultural transformation or These blocks are the longest running oil projects in the Peruvian
Westernization, and integration into the market economy affect rainforest and the most productive in the country, with an average of
biodiversity (Hames, 2007). 70,000 barrels/day from 1971 to 2008.
It is argued that improved regulations and standards of environ- Oil impacts in the Corrientes River indigenous territory have been
mental management in oil and gas exploration and extraction (land thoroughly described in Orta-Martínez et al. (2007). Here we
use, waste disposal, water use, waste-water management, green- summarize this evidence in order to analyze social conflicts and
house-gas emissions, gas flaring and air pollution) have diminished forms of resistance in the following section.
direct impacts per unit of production compared to old oil projects. In parallel with oil development, the Achuar reported oil spills, toxic
Eco-efficiency improvements disguise the fact that oil impacts are waste burial or disposal in water bodies (drilling mud and formation
often irreversible and that the total impact can increase while water), gas flaring, increasing mortality which they attribute to acute
decreasing per unit of production if the number of oil projects cases of poisoning and cancer (La Torre López, 1999). They also reported
increases in socially and environmentally fragile areas. The impacts sexual abuses, illegal logging, and hunting and commercialization of
should be analyzed in historical perspective, counting cumulative bushmeat causing overexplotaition to the detriment of indigenous
impacts. In other words, what is relevant for rainforest conservation peoples' livelihood. In 1984, the government agency for natural
and indigenous people health and survival is not only pollution per resources described the region as ‘one of the most damaged critical
unit of oil production but also the total and cumulative effect of oil environmental areas in the country’ (ONERN, 1984). In 1998 the
activities. This perspective strengthens the thesis that Environmental Ministry of Energy and Mines reported high concentrations of heavy
Impact Assessments should not be conducted for each individualized metals (mercury, barium and lead) and hydrocarbons in surface water
oil project, but in a regional and historical context (Finer et al., 2008). and river sediment (MEM, 1998). In 2004 the regulatory body for energy

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investment also recorded the presence ‘of areas saturated by contam- 4.2. Typology of Impacts
ination due to old and recent hydrocarbon activities’ and the ‘presence
of visible petroleum spills in rivers, soils and around all production The oil industry generates cultural, social and environmental
installations’ (OSINERG, 2004). The first and unique study about heavy damages. Such damages interact and depend on other factors, and it is
metals presence in blood samples of local indigenous people, carried out not always easy to establish the causal relationships between the
by the Ministry of Health, concluded that, for cadmium, 98.65% of 2– factors involved. Cultural damage, on which there are very few
17 year olds had exceeded acceptable limits for people not occupation- judicial decisions requiring compensation, comes with a long history
ally exposed, and that 99.20% of the adults were over permissible limits. of racism that often led indigenous people to the denial of their own
Acceptable WHO blood lead levels were also exceed in 66.21% of the indigenous roots. The loss of institutions, rituals, knowledge and
samples (DIGESA, 2006). practices resulting from oil activity in the area, not only has not been
Despite this situation, the Peruvian government has from 2004 to reported, but also has been favored by the members of communities.
2007 leased six new oil concessions which overlap with the whole Only recently, a timid purpose to recover indigenous dignity has
Achuar ancestral territory –Blocks 101 (Talisman), 102 (Ramshorn), arisen, and FECONACO began to undertake activities to reinforce
104 (Burlington), 106 (Petrolífera Petroleum), 127 (Cepsa) and 143 cultural identity.
(Hunt Oil)–, and approved their Environmental Impact Assessments Social and environmental damage has been the cause of most of
which allowed operations to start. the conflicts between the Achuar and the oil companies. Social and
By themselves, the impacts detailed above do not explain the environmental damages are closely related since Achuar communities
course of events. Conflicts about oil extraction in remote areas are rely on the environment as a source of livelihood and of any
highly complex, due to extreme cultural disparity between actors, marketable good. Thus, the decline in fishing and hunting were
asymmetries in decision power and negotiation skills. Furthermore, considered by the Achuar as a direct result of oil pollution. However,
indigenous people are divided in terms of interests and opinions. All of other factors such as population growth, introduction of firearms that
these factors are modulated by recent and past history of indigenous replace blowguns or the loss of traditional institutions and regulatory
peoples, evangelization, military service, dependence of communities practices for hunting, might also play a role. Some of these factors
on oil companies and absence of state agencies and other external might also be an indirect effect of petroleum activities.
institutions; lack of audit capacity of state agencies, degree of Conflict dynamics are also conditioned by the long-term emer-
democratic freedoms in the country, environmental legislation and gence of diseases linked to oil pollution. The highest degree of social
laws regarding indigenous peoples, isolation of the area, economic mobilization coincided with the emergence of new diseases, such as
resources of indigenous organizations and external support by NGOS, suspected cases of cancer. There are no official records of causes of
and so on. Such factors, in turn, influence the internal strength of death in the communities, there are no epidemiological studies to
indigenous communities, the role of traditional authorities, and the establish a causal relationship between cancer and oil activities. But
clash between generations. health is one of the indigenous peoples' major concerns. Such health
We list below some of the most important factors to understand effects are largely long-term and given that indigenous people were
the different dimensions of conflict around hydrocarbon activities. unaware of the toxicity of crude oil because there were no natural
outcrops of oil in the area, the conflict was postponed, allowing a
conflict-free operation to Oxy between 1971 and 2000, and even after
4.1. Land Titling and Decision Power the concession was transferred to Pluspetrol. By then, damages
became very visible. Pluspetrol Corporation linked this pollution to
Hydrocarbon Law 26221, enacted in 1993 during the Fujimori past Oxy activities, denying any relation with its own activities.
government, clearly establishes the right of the State over subsurface
resources to facilitate mining and hydrocarbon concessions. Thus, the 4.3. Isolation
state concentrates the power to allow companies to establish oil
facilities, roads, drill sites and pipelines on indigenous lands, even In remote areas indigenous people have no other contacts with the
when they are titled. Peru ratified ILO Convention 169 (ILO, 1989) in national society than the company itself; or perhaps missionaries or
1993 (Legislative Resolution 26253–1993), by which indigenous the military. Due to geographical isolation, and lack of Western
communities, whether or not they have land title, have the right to cultural skills and familiarity with national institutions, indigenous
FPIC of the activities to be carried out in their territory. However, until communities do not usually have the chance to access alternative
recently even some titled communities were not consulted. Despite external actors (state agencies, courts, universities or NGOs) and
this situation, indigenous peoples know well that their territorial when they want to complain about pollution, they only can complain
rights are the bridge to guarantee their basic rights to health, to the company itself. Thus, the conflict is often silenced at
livelihood, a healthy environment and use of their resources, as well international, national, regional or even local level until protest
as their cultural rights. For these reasons, titling their territories is a becomes visible in the forms of roadblocks or occupations of oil
daily palpable need for the communities. installations.
Indigenous territories are usually defined as an area that covers all
ancestral territories of each ethnic group. However, the Peruvian 4.4. Organizational Strength
government only recognizes collective ownership areas to commu-
nities, dividing ethnic groups and even confronting communities due Increasing State presence after the war with Ecuador in 1941 and
to infighting among them over the limits of such properties. the arrival of missionaries of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL),
Moreover, company–indigenous agreements are reached separately determined to a large extent the collapse of Achuar institutions and
per each titled community, dividing even more, the indigenous the blurring of the traditional authority, the Apu. The presence of state
peoples' movement. authorities in Villa Trompeteros (district capital, 4000 inhabitants in
The nomadism of indigenous groups, their diffuse use of the 1993) determined the appearance of two new authorities in the
territory invisible to Western eyes, (family groups started to settle in communities, the lieutenant governor and the municipal agent, but
communities not until the 1960s and in some cases subsequent to the the major agent of change was Achuar evangelization by the SIL. As a
arrival of the oil company) and government centralism led to the result, the community bilingual teacher came to transform the Achuar
absence of mechanisms to take into account indigenous peoples in the public sphere and the institutions, practices and knowledge of Achuar
decision making process for new oil facilities. culture were discredited.

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Today FECONACO leaders, as their representatives, have a key role source of livelihood, water, food, medicines, wood and any other daily
among the Achuar. Given their power there are often rumours of resource; but also the source for their knowledge, culture and spiritual
leaders being involved in corruption. In 2002, FECONACO leaders traditions which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and
were replaced over allegations of taking bribes from Pluspetrol. The integral development as peoples (Surrallés and Garcia-Hierro, 2004).
outgoing leaders came to form another federation (FEPIBAC) which The politics of the indigenous peoples' movement has focused long
attended meetings with state agencies claiming to be legal repre- ago on the recognition of their territory through collective land titles.
sentatives of the Achuar. In Peru, the legal figure of the native community in the Amazon
Such rumours of corruption undermine confidence of the was created in 1974 (Stocks, 2005). However, the law does not
communities in the leaders, which in turn, diminishes their strength directly permit several communities to claim a single territory for
as representatives of the Achuar people, and also their capacity to each ethnic group (as for instance, the original community lands –
claim their rights. Thus, while (false) rumours were spread about tierras comunitarias de origen–, in Bolivia). So that titled native
houses in the U.S. being bought in 2006 to FECONACO's leaders by the communities leave large gaps of territory in between that are filled in
oil company, FECONACO lacked the economic resources to undertake by settlers. According to the law, the native communities do not own
visits to communities (by expensive boat trips) to strengthen the the forest rights and the state has the right to give logging
confidence of the Achuar people. concessions. They also do not own the subsurface resource rights
and have to provide right-of-way for all state-constructed roads and
4.5. Dependence on Oil Companies free passage to oil or gas pipelines, among others infrastructures
(Stocks, 2005). Under Fujimori (1990–2000), the 1993 constitution
Achuar communities' dependence on Pluspetrol has been called revoked the inalienability of indigenous lands (indigenous property
“extreme” (OSINERG, 2004). Both Oxy and Pluspetrol have been the may now be subject to mortgage) (Stocks, 2005). In 1991, a land
largest source of wage employment and the most important source of titling program of the Agriculture Department was funded by the
cash into communities. Currently the majority of adult men engage in World Bank —the Special Project on Land Titling. In 2008 its
wage employment (perhaps two or three months per year) working responsibilities were transferred to COFOPRI (attached to the housing
on remediation, road maintenance or vegetation clearing in seismic authority). Currently the Peruvian government has issued over 1200
lines and drilling sites. Dependence on Pluspetrol is also due to the land titles to Amazonian indigenous communities (in only 13.5% of
annual agreements between Pluspetrol and FECONACO. The company the Peruvian Amazon) and created 5 territorial reserves for the
pays for the construction of wells for drinking water, health posts, protection of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation (3.6% of the
training programs for health promoters, care in health centers of the Peruvian Amazon) (IBC, 2009a). Moreover, this plan only gave title to
oil company, donation and maintenance of electric generators, areas smaller than the ones in actual use, under a concept of sedentary
transport of indigenous people along the oil company road (hitchhik- life and without recognizing the territorial needs of hunter–gatherer
ing), air transport for indigenous authorities to attend meetings in societies. It did not solve the problem on native community titling.
Iquitos or Lima or for health emergencies (Pluspetrol Norte SA and In 1978 three Achuar traditional leaders travelled to Iquitos in
Pampa-Hermosa, 2003). The oil company replaces the State. order to get a land title and stop the oil activities in their territories.
This dependence means, on the one hand, a long-term risk of They even managed to have a meeting on 12 August 1983 with the
extreme poverty when oil runs out, and on the other hand, the Peruvian President, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, to whom they asked for
possibility for the company to pressure the communities by reducing territorial rights (Uriarte, 2007). Three decades later and after long
these services as happened in the early 1990s when the Achuar began bureaucratic procedures the Achuar people have only got a few small
to organize themselves. land titles which do not solve their problems or guarantee their
territorial rights. Indigenous peoples have often alleged that the
5. Achuar Resistance Methods Peruvian government uses a strategy of “rocking and boring” them by
not paying attention to their claims while inviting them from time to
In the Corrientes River, the conflicts are mainly expressed in a time to go to distant Lima to have talks. Indigenous peoples believe
language of indigenous identity and territorial rights, and also in the that government has little respect for their rights when establishing
language of risks to health. Such languages are intertwined and are Amazonian policies.
used together. Health has been used for direct actions, as well as for a
court case. Resistance focused on land titling was based on territorial 5.2. Occupation of Oil Wells because of Claims to Health
rights while monitoring of oil impacts used indigenous environmental
language. Until 2006, the Achuar held meetings in Iquitos and Lima with the
Congressional National Commission for Andean, Amazonian and
5.1. Land Titling Afroperuvian Peoples (CONAPA, which later became INDEPA), the
Commission for the Amazon, Ecology and Environment from the
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peruvian Congress, the General Direction for Environmental and
Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September Energy Affairs (DGAAE) from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the
2007. It starts by recognizing the link between territory and rights: Minister of Health, the Environmental Health Agency (DIGESA), the
“control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and Regional Health Department of Loreto (DESA-Loreto), the Epidemi-
their lands, territories and resources will enable them to maintain and ology Division (DGE), and other state agencies; they also met the
strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions[…].” This Ombudsman, Congressmen and the First Lady (Orta-Martínez, 2007).
Declaration was not only signed by Peru but also sponsored by its Historically, the Achuar have mobilized socially only in relation to
government at the time (UN, 2007). The Declaration was born from the non-fulfillment of oil company–indigenous agreements. But in
debates on land titling that go back many decades. Indigenous peoples 2006, after publication of the official report on the alarming cadmium
have repeatedly stated that their cultural security is synonymous levels in their blood by the Ministry of Health, the patterns of Achuar
with, and entirely contingent upon, security of tenure. The control of mobilization changed. The traditional leaders of the Achuar commu-
their ancestral territory is recognized as a key right from which nities went to new meetings in Lima whose objective was to set an
depend their social structure, organization, institutions, cultural emergency health plan. After elections held in June 2006, they met
heritage, practices and beliefs, and sustainable use of natural with the new Alan García's administration, but the government did
resources. Under the indigenous worldview their territory is their nothing to prevent new oil pollution. A meeting was arranged by 26

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September 2006, but representatives of the administration did not organizations under oil companies' control. They are major negative
attend. Annoyed with this cancellation, the Achuar people decided to forces for the future of the Achuar people of the Corrientes River.
demonstrate in Iquitos, and to take action.
In October 2006, more than 800 Achuar from the Corrientes River 5.4. Court Case
occupied most of the oil facilities in Blocks 1AB and 8 to stop oil wells.
They did not want to lift the occupation until the Minister of Health Extraterritorial legislations give the legal forum for plaintiffs from
and the Minister of Energy and Mines undertook to end the discharge countries that extract and export raw materials to bring their claims
of formation waters into their rivers, one main pollution source. The for damages in the importing countries which are also home to the
Achuar stopped oil extraction for two weeks until the government transnational corporations which (together with national companies)
and Pluspetrol agreed to the reinjection of all formation waters by July are liable or should be liable for such damages. In their home countries
2008 in Block 1AB, and by December 2008 in Block 8. They also agreed the defendant transnational corporations have assets available for
to undertake remediation activities and to implement a health care paying damages and there is no institutionalized corruption of the
plan along the Corrientes River basin, which included provisional judicial system. The Alien Tort Claim Act (ATCA) of the United States
emergency food and water supplies to avoid the polluted Achuar's has been of particular interest. Thus, Freeport-McMoRan, a mining
normal sources (La Torre López and Napolitano, 2007). company, was accused of human rights and environmental violations
The oil company fulfilled their commitments to reinject formation in Indonesia (Black, 2004). Referring only to oil and gas, a group of
water in the Corrientes River on time. Nevertheless, the formation Burmese villagers brought a case against Unocal due to alleged human
waters in other river basins in Blocks 1AB and 8,—the territory of the rights abuses committed during the construction of the Yadana
Kichwa indigenous people who did not join the Achuar's strike, did pipeline; cases have been brought against Shell and Chevron for
not start to be reinjected until one year later. At the end of 2009, the damage to environmental and human rights in Nigeria, against Texaco
government still had not fulfilled its commitments to build a hospital (now Chevron) for environmental abuse in the Ecuadorian Amazon,
and truly implement the health care plan. In March 2010 FECONACO against ExxonMobil for alleged complicity in human rights violations
demonstrated again in Iquitos to demand that the government fulfil by Indonesian military units, and against Talisman for alleged abuse of
the 2006 agreements (Aidesep, 2010). Meanwhile, Antonio Brack, the human rights in Sudan (Bekele Woldemelekot, 2008; Utting and
Environment Minister, presented the Achuar case as a proof that Clapp, 2008).
today oil activities are healthy and that pollution is an old problem In May 2007, twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs brought suit
(Felipe-Gamarra, 2009). The Achuar case could rather be interpreted in the Superior Court of the State of California against Los Angeles-
as an environmental justice movement claiming equal rights to based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging harm caused by Oxy
health. Resorting to peaceful direct action, they had a measure of over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin. This was a class
success. action, where plaintiffs brought these claims on behalf of themselves
and of all residents of five Achuar communities (estimated to be
approximately 2500) that sustained the same type of injuries and
5.3. Monitoring Social, Cultural and Environmental Liabilities through damages arising out of Oxy's conduct. In April 2008, the judge of the U.
Participatory GIS S. District Court for the Central District of California granted Oxy's
motion to dismiss and ruled that the case was more appropriately
In the Achuar territory, a system of Monitoring Environmental heard in Peru under the legal doctrine so often applied in such cases of
Liabilities trough Participatory GIS (MELPGIS) was implemented by forum non conveniens. The case is currently in the appeal process. The
FECONACO and collaborators, and it is running since 2005 to today. One plaintiffs are also considering taking legal action in a Peruvian court.
author of the present article was directly involved in the growth of this
new method. An indigenous mapping and monitoring system was 6. Oil Conflicts: Increasingly Commonplace
developed, based on a particular application of indigenous mapping
methodologies to monitor the sites impacted by oil extraction. The Policy makers in Peru have begun to realize the actual number of
objectives were to empower indigenous people through new technologies hectares and resources involved in phrases such as “rights to lands
reinforcing their own perception of impacts, and to link indigenous people traditionally occupied”. They are not keen in recognising the hard-
to government policy-makers and national and international civil society won advances in indigenous rights. The assertion “too much land and
to force the Peruvian State and the oil companies to acknowledge resources for too few indigenous peoples” is another way of saying
damages and take steps to mitigate the environmental and health impacts that there are political and economic interests that want the land
of their activities. The poor daily practice in waste management, quality (Stocks, 2005).
and security of installations and infrastructure, and the non-implemen- In October 2007, President Alan Garcia published a newspaper
tation of contingency plans due to negligence, cost-cutting and corruption article titled The Dog in the Manger syndrome (García Pérez, 2007),
were to be exposed by the indigenous peoples themselves. This which compared Amazonian indigenous people to a dog growling
methodology (MELPGIS) could also be applied to impacts from tree over food that it will not eat but will not let others have. Alan Garcia
plantations or agrofuels, and in general to ecological conflicts on resource wrote that huge indigenous lands were idle and only a small portion
extraction, transport and waste disposal. The whole methodology is was agricultural land. According to him, “sacred and ancestral land
described in detail in Orta-Martínez et al. (Orta-Martínez, submitted). rights” were excuses to prevent turning the Amazon into productive
The fact that indigenous groups used cutting edge GIS technology lands by national and foreign investment in resource extraction,
aroused media echo (Collyns, 2008; La República, 2008). Strong and plantation forests and agrofuels production. The indigenous popula-
irrefutable pictures and videos of oil impacts led oil companies to tion of the Peruvian Amazon was only 332,975 inhabitants (INEI,
improve their modus operandi and the Peruvian government to better 2008b), only 1.18% of total 28,220,764 Peruvian population (INEI,
supervise oil activities. It might also have contributed to raise oil 2008a), and owned 10.41% of Peru (Benavides, 2009).
consumers' awareness in importing countries though this would In 2008, Alan García approved 104 decree-laws under executive
require additional research. powers he had from the Peruvian congress to facilitate implementation of
Despite such improvements in knowledge and awareness, in the the new US–Peru Free Trade Agreement. Indigenous people's organiza-
last two years we have directly observed increasing alcoholism tions argued that the government wanted to open up the Amazon to
(promoted by alcohol gifts from the oil companies), bribery of private investment (agrofuel plantations, oil drilling, mining in the
indigenous leaders, and the sponsored birth of new indigenous Cordillera del Condor and elsewhere, plantation forestry), basically taking

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Fig. 2. Evolution of socio-environmental conflicts in Peru according to the Peruvian ombudsman.


Source: Own design based on data provided by Defensoría del Pueblo, Reporte de Conflictos Sociales,
Jan 2005–March 2010.

away land from indigenous people, and allowing companies to operate in after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
or take over community lands much more easily. issued ‘Precautionary Measures’ in order to protect the lives of the
In mid-2008 indigenous people's organizations began a protest Tagaeri and Taromenane voluntary isolated (Finer et al., 2009b); or
campaign and, in April 2009, after allegations of lack of proper dialogue, emulating the Ecuadorian government proposal of leaving 850 mil-
they started roadblocks at different points in the Amazon and also in the lion barrels of heavy oil untapped in the ITT field Yasuní National
highlands. Just one day after a new postponement of a debate in Park in exchange for compensation from the international commu-
Congress about repealing some of the decree-laws in question, the nity (Finer et al., 2009a; Larrea and Warnars, 2009).
police effort to clear the blockade at Bagua in Northern Peru culminated Here, we gather together several additional policy alternatives to
in bloodshed on June 5th, when 24 police and not less than 10 civilians avoid hydrocarbon-related impacts, stemming from and proposed by
were killed. Five leaders of the national indigenous organization –the the ecological economics and political ecology community:
Peruvian Jungle Interethnic Development Association, AIDESEP– were
ordered to be arrested on charges of sedition. Three of them took refuge
— An international legal framework to get compensation for social
in the embassy of Nicaragua and AIDESEP's leader A. Pizango has been in
and environmental liabilities of oil companies, and prior to this,
exile until May 2010. Alan García blamed “foreign forces” for the
the obligation to count such liabilities. It can help to internalize the
violence and spoke of a “conspiracy” to stop his government from
negative externalities of the oil industry that arise not because of
exploiting natural resources (Collyns, 2009).
market failure but as cost-shifting successes, and it could be
As the world economy uses more energy and oil, gas, coal, copper,
achieved thanks to current court cases, such as the case against
bauxite, palm oil, paper pulp and other raw materials, the commodity
Chevron–Texaco in Ecuador and the Oxy case in Peru (Black,
frontiers advance into the Peruvian Amazon as in other territories
2004), which can set a law of precedent; but also thanks to a World
undermining the conditions of livelihood and the very existence of
Court with jurisdiction over transnational corporations. Two
peripheral peoples, who complain accordingly (Martínez-Alier, 2002).
parallel versions of a statute for this Court have been proposed
Ecological distribution conflicts have been increasing across the
by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promoting Human Rights while
Peruvian Amazon (Fig. 2). Fifteen open conflicts related to hydrocar-
Countering Terrorism (Scheinin, 2009), and the U.N. Special
bon activities were reported in Januray 2010 (Defensoría, 2005–
Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
2009). Similarly, our records indicate that indigenous peoples have
Treatment (Nowak and Kozma, 2009);
organized major protests in at least 19 blocks (see Table 1).
— The Daly–Correa tax (Martínez-Alier and Temper, 2007). In the
context of the climate change debate, a new eco-tax on oil exports
7. Policy Recommendations by OPEC countries of about 3% has been proposed, with the explicit
aim of lowering a little the demand for oil in order to diminish
Finer et al. (2008) presented several policy recommendations carbon dioxide emissions and oil extraction, but also recycling the
aimed at reducing or eliminating hydrocarbon-related impacts, such revenue towards poverty-reduction, oil extraction impacts miti-
as banning new oil access roads through wilderness areas; the gation and energy transition;
implementation in national regulations of the indigenous peoples' — Degrowth. Spurred by the first report to the Club of Rome in 1972,
right to reject a project planned on their territory after being “The Limits to Growth” (Meadows et al., 1972), economic degrowth
properly consulted (the FPIC); the requirement of Strategic leading to a steady state economy in rich countries is now a topic for
Environmental Assessment that analyze the long-term, cumulative, discussion due to the world economic recession (Rijnhout and
and synergistic impacts of multiple oil and gas projects across a Schauer 2009). In a limited system, unlimited growth is impossible.
region; the creation of Intangible zones for voluntary isolated Economic growth increases the flows of energy and materials.
indigenous peoples where any commercial extractive activity is in Degrowth, when substituting GDP by social and environmental
principle forbidden, as the Zona Intangible created by the Ecuador- indicators to trace society's success towards sustainability, will
ian government in 1999, whose boundaries were not set until 2007 reduce oil demand, avoiding the increase in the socio-environmental

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liabilities of transnational oil companies and the destruction of We can conclude that there is a regional pattern of oil expansion in
nature and human livelihoods at the oil frontiers, reinforcing the Peruvian Amazon that will deepen in the future and, therefore
Environmental Justice worldwide. increasing oil impacts and conflicts are to be expected. This pattern
also applies in Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador (Finer et al.,
The authors consider that a moratorium on the opening up of the oil 2008), and also in other areas around the world.
frontier in socially and environmentally sensitive areas would be Some authors have seen these environmental justice conflicts (the
necessary before such policies were implemented. Such moratorium defense of indigenous groups against oil extraction, but also against
was already proposed by environmental groups (Oilwatch) and mining, large dams or logging) as manifestations of identity politics,
indigenous organizations in Ecuador and Nigeria in 1997, to enable understanding conflicts mainly as a reaffirmation of identity. Identity
states and civil society to assess the social, economic and environmental is however one language in which the fights against the unequal
advantages and disadvantages of oil exploration and extraction in distribution of pollution burdens and access to natural resources due
comparison with the other alternatives in a multi-criteria paradigm. to unequal property rights, and inequalities of power and income
Technological advances, such as air transportation services via among humans are expressed (Martínez-Alier, 2007). When some
helicopter to avoid road access or directional drilling to reduce the actors deploy, in resource extraction or in pollution conflicts, the
number of drilling sites are also important to minimize impacts. language of territorial rights and ethnic resistance against external
However, technical improvements that minimize impacts are not exploitation or pollution, this could be understood as a powerful
enough on their own since most oil impacts are long-term, idiom in which structural conflicts are expressed. Other languages
irreversible and accumulative. could be the value of local livelihood, the sacredness of some places,
the right to life, the supremacy of local democracy, or the demand for
8. Conclusions monetary compensation for damages in a court case, the value of
biodiversity conservation.
Looking at the world economy from the point of view of its For sociologist and social historians, the birth of new forms of
metabolism, we see that more and more materials and energy are used resistance such as the occupation of oil wells, and participatory
by the economy over time, thus requiring an advance of the commodity monitoring using GIS, should certainly be of interest. In the Peruvian
frontiers. Apart from this worldwide trend, there are regional factors Amazon, and particularly in the Corrientes case, indigenous resistance
that are relevant to understand why there has recently been an has moved from land titling to institutional lobbying, and finally, to
expansion of the oil frontier in the Peruvian Amazon: the style of other forms of activism such a roadblocks. Initially, indigenous peoples
political economy that shaped Peru's economic development in the last were confident that titling would provide them with the tools for the
decades; the kind of political architecture, regionalism, and racism effective exercise of their rights, but they soon realized that land titles
found in Peru; the measures adopted by Alan García in 2008 to facilitate were not enough for preventing impacts from oil activities. Then they
the implementation of the US–Peru Free Trade Agreement; the multi- tried diverse tactics (from institutional meetings to GIS monitoring
million oil investment inflows and royalties, and the political relations looking for international awareness and solidarity). Other tactics they
between Lima elites and foreign companies. The ultimate cause of the have resort to are court cases. Roadblocks is a resistance method that
conflicts is nevertheless the increasing exosomatic energy metabolism depends totally on themselves. Knowledge of their deteriorating health
of the importing economies and also of Peru. has been an important factor determining changes in the resistance
Even though this territory is a very minor source of world fossil methods employed in the Corrientes River. Publication of health reports
fuels, an unprecedented amount of the Peruvian Amazon is now triggered the abandonment of ineffective past methods.
covered by oil and gas concessions, spreading over the most intact Anthropologists, conservation biologists, environmental sociolo-
parts of the territory, pushing on the agriculture, cattle and logging gists and political scientists should take into account the insights of
frontier; overlapping with indigenous lands and also with the often the social metabolism approach. Indigenous peoples' loss of livelihood
unmapped territories of indigenous people in voluntary isolation, with huge environmental consequences in the western Amazon
threatening their life and livelihood, and their cultural patrimony. region cannot be understood unless we take into account the
Patterns of production and consumption in an oil-based world dependence of the world economy on oil and gas.
economy are leading to a peak in oil extraction. Even when energy Indigenous peoples' integration to the market due to the
use falls down a little, as in 2008–09, there is a need for fresh supplies expansion pattern of hydrocarbon concessions should definitively
of fossil fuels because energy cannot be recycled. Contrary to the be considered as one of the main environmental impacts for the
intuitive but erroneous idea of understanding peak oil as the end of Amazon. This, together with the risk of contact (and elimination) of
the pollution problem and climate change and the starting point for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, allows us to conclude that
new renewable energy development, peak oil (along with increasing oil activities can not be considered transient, neither when referring
oil prices) is spurring oil exploration all over the world and to oil extraction nor to oil exploration.
determining the re-evaluation and development of additional The Peruvian Amazon annual oil production fuels less than 4 hours
conventional resources and of unconventional resources previously of world oil consumption, and only 996 million barrels have been
without commercial interest. In other words, peak oil implies for the extracted from the Peruvian Amazon until today. World oil consump-
time being larger impacts of oil exploration and extraction at the tion per day is in 2009 around 85 million barrels (EIA, 2009b). At the
commodity frontiers for the remaining oil, for gas and for coal. The present rate, all the oil extracted in the Peruvian Amazon until today
term commodity frontiers was coined by Jason W. Moore (Moore, would fuel the world economy for 12 days. Assuming major
2000) to refer to environmental transformations, degradation and discoveries thanks to the new oil exploration boom in the Peruvian
relative exhaustion in one region after another due to natural Amazon (proved and unproved (probable and possible) reserves
resources production and extraction; environmental transformations account for 3900 million barrels), they will last only for a while. Are
that were conditions as well as consequences of the expansion of a the social, environmental, economic costs of oil exploration worth-
world-economy predicated on the endless accumulation of capital. while? Are they commensurable with the benefits? Other alternatives
Hence, the use and abuse of nature by capital in the modern world should be considered when defining the development strategy such
undermines not only its own conditions of production but also the as securing human rights, stability and peace in the whole region,
conditions of livelihood and existence of peripheral peoples, so that helping to avoid climate change, and preserving unparalleled
ecological distribution conflicts keep increasing across the world biodiversity at world level. In which units of account shall profits
(Martínez-Alier, 2002; O'Connor, 1988). and losses be counted? Which is the real “price” of oil?

Please cite this article as: Orta-Martínez, M., Finer, M., Oil frontiers and indigenous resistance in the Peruvian Amazon, Ecological Economics
(2010), doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.04.022
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M. Orta-Martínez, M. Finer / Ecological Economics xxx (2010) xxx–xxx 11

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