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Category — Developing countries

Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part III: Did International Oil Firms Despoil Eastern Ecuador’s Environment?)

[Ed. Note: This concludes Douglas Southgate's review of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and through them international oil companies (IOCs). Part I challenged the facade that Ecuador's passive view of its own resources led to exploitation by Big Oil; Part II examined the economic benefits of fossil-fuel development in the country.

This post refutes the charge that environmental damage is the responsibility of foreign firms alone. Indeed, it is the state company, Petroecuador, that was chiefly responsible for environmental despoliation in the Amazon region. These postings are timely in light of a recent article in The New Yorker, [1] a new book about the construction of a trans-Andean pipeline, [2] and other literature in which IOCs’ actions in Ecuador are criticized.

Billions for Government, Nada Environment

Opponents of petroleum development in the Amazonian lowlands (Oriente) of eastern Ecuador maintain that damage to the region’s natural resources has been the result of IOCs’ dominance of the country. But in the first of three postings about the anti-oil campaign, I show that the Ecuadorian government actually exercised considerable power in its dealings with foreign companies. Soon after petroleum was discovered in the Oriente, Ecuadorian authorities obliged IOCs to spend tens of millions of dollars on transportation infrastructure in order to facilitate colonization, in which the firms had no real interest. [Read more →]

February 17, 2012   3 Comments

Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part II: Oil wealth & socioeconomic progress in Ecuador)

[Ed. Note: This series addresses key issues at the heart of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and, through them, international oil companies (IOCs). Part I challenged the facade that Ecuador's passive view of its own resources led to exploitation by Big Oil. Part III tomorrow addresses the misperception that environmental damage in this small, South American nations is the responsibility of foreign firms alone.]

 Oil and gas has been a 40-year economic driver in Ecuador. With the national treasury benefiting from oil and gas revenue, any lack of socioeconomic progress during the last decades cannot be blamed on international oil company (IOC) profit-making there.

Indeed, no serious observer claims that Ecuador has failed to experience development. Criticism has focused instead on waste and misallocation of the large cash bounty that multinational investment created for Ecuador.

Who Got the Money?

Much of the blame for misallocation rests with the uniformed services, which have received a sizable portion of the country’s petrodollars. Military expenditures averaged 45 percent of the national budget from 1972 through 2000, which has enabled the armed forces to acquire a fleet of oil tankers, an airline, and other commercial enterprises.[1] However, oil wealth also has been spent on social services and subsidies for the public at large.

Despite waste, corruption, and misallocation, gross national income (GNI) per capita improved during this period. So did non-economic indicators of human well-being, including the infant mortality rate (IMR) and life expectancy at birth, thanks to better water supplies and public sanitation, wider access to pharmaceuticals, and, most importantly, improved nutrition.

Conditions in 1967

At the time when oil was discovered in the Oriente, mean GNI in Ecuador ($260) was barely half the Latin American and Caribbean average ($478); only in Haiti’s GNI per capita was appreciably lower. [2] The country’s standing in terms of non-economic measures was a little better. [Read more →]

February 16, 2012   No Comments

Petroleum Development in the Ecuadorian Amazon: Setting the Record Straight (Part I: Was Ecuador ever subservient to foreign oil firms?)

[Ed. Note: In this three-part series, Douglas Southgate, an economist and professor at Ohio State University, addresses key issues at the heart of Ecuador’s claims of “reckless environmental damage” against Chevron, and, through them, international oil companies (IOCs). Part II and Part III will address two other charges: that the small, South American nation has benefited little from energy-resource development, and that environmental damage is the responsibility of foreign firms alone.  These postings are timely in light of a recent article in The New Yorker,[2] a new book about the construction of a trans-Andean pipeline,[3] and other literature in which IOCs’ actions in Ecuador are criticized.]

Part I in this series challenges the charge from the Ecuadorian régime’s (and its U.S. backers) that:

(1) Ecuador was an innocent seduced by the siren song of Big Oil, and became a vassal to their interests;

(2) Ecuador’s relationship to its oil potential was merely passive; and

(3) Oil development monies did not benefit Ecuador.

In fact, the country moved aggressively to capture the lion’s share of the benefits created by private investment. Nationalization and taxation left the government with 97.3 percent, or $22.7 billion, of the monetary returns created by the concession originally developed by Texaco and Gulf between 1972 (when production and exports began) and 1992 (when the state oil company gained complete ownership of the concession).[1]

The Legal Setting

Continuing appeals of a February 2011 ruling by a district court in the Amazonian lowlands of eastern Ecuador and charges of fraud leveled against plaintiffs’ counsel [4] are recent and noteworthy developments in a legal campaign launched nearly two decades ago against Texaco, which along with Gulf Corporation began drilling for petroleum in the region during the 1960s and which has been affiliated since 2001 with Chevron. [Read more →]

February 15, 2012   3 Comments

Energy and Poverty – What is Really at Stake in Cancun

A year ago during the Copenhagen conference on climate change, I published a post, Electricity for the Poor–What Copenhagen Really Needs to Confront, where I noted that some 1.5 billion people did not have access to reliable electricity supplies. To update this, there is more electricity generated this year than last, mostly due to newly commissioned large conventional sources of electric power – gas, coal, hydro, nuclear. The new estimate is 1.4 billion living in energy squalor.

To hear the good and the great at Cancun, the sustainability issue of energy poverty is hidden. Occasionally, one of the climate-change grandees slips up and admits that this the real subject is wealth redistribution, not climate. But that is about as close as it gets.

All the more reason that the international forums on climate change, energy environment, and the like should get to first principles and study this map:  The World At Night (courtesy of Bert Christensen)

When you fly overnight from Johannesburg to Europe the lights thin out just north of Lusaka, Zambia, a few more in Zambia’s Copper Belt and then nothing (and I mean nothing) until the North African coastline.  For most of this 11-12 hour flight there are no artificial lights below.  From the Sahara on south, but excluding South Africa, a region that is home to more than 400 million people consumes less electricity than New York City.

[Read more →]

December 6, 2010   8 Comments

Electricity for the Poor – What Copenhagen Really Needs to Confront

When you fly overnight from Johannesburg to Europe the lights become thin just north of Lusaka, Zambia, a few more in Zambia’s Copper Belt and then nothing (and I mean nothing) until the North African coastline. For most of this 11-12 hour flight there are no artificial lights below. From the Sahara on south, but excluding South Africa, a region that is home to more than 400 million people consumes less electricity than New York City.

The World At Night (courtesy of Bert Christensen. Click to enlarge.)

  • And yet this area includes major oil producers:
    Nigeria produces 2.1 million b/d oil and consumes 19 billion kWh/y
    Angola produces 2.0 million b/d oil and consumes 3.2 billion kWh/y
    Equatorial Guinea produces 0.36 million b/d and consumes 26 million kWh/y
    Other sub-Saharan Africa oil producers supply more than 1 million b/d to world markets.
    New York City produces 0 b/d oil and consumes 75 billion kWh/y

Apparently some are bothered by the prospect that Africa could light up.

We Don’t Want What You Have (Wanna Bet?)

Many of those who would save the earth from the scourge of modern energy want us to believe that it is no big deal that as many as 1.5 billion people, more than three fourths of the population of the world’s poorest countries, lack any access to modern energy. They still use wood and charcoal for cooking, and sometimes a bit of kerosine for lighting. For most of these people the only realistic way to gain access to modern energy is to leave the village or town and move to the city. [Read more →]

December 9, 2009   2 Comments