A Second Hydrocarbon Boom Threatens the Peruvian Amazon

The following is an abstract of the full article published in Environmental Research Letters, by Matt Finer and Maria Orta-Martinez. Its findings have direct implications for our work in Peru. The Peruvian Amazon is home to extraordinary biological and cultural diversity, and vast waths of this mega-diverse region remain largely intact. Recent analysis indicates, however, that the rapid proliferation of oil and gas exploration zones now threatens the region’s biodiversity, indigenous peoples, and wilderness areas. To better elucidate this dynamic situation, we analyzed official Peruvian government hydrocarbon information and generated a quantitative analysis of the past, present, and future of oil and gas activities in the Peruvian Amazon. We document an extensive hydrocarbon history for the region—over 104 000 km of seismic lines and 679 exploratory and production wells—highlighted by a major exploration boom in the early 1970s. We show that an unprecedented 48.6% of the Peruvian Amazon has been recently covered by oil and gas concessions, up from just 7.1% in 2003. These oil and gas concessions overlap 17.1% of the Peruvian Amazon protected area system and over half of all titled indigenous lands. Moreover, we found that up to 72% of the Peruvian Amazon has been zoned for hydrocarbon activities (concessions plus technical evaluation agreements and proposed concessions) in the past two years, and over 84% at some point during the past 40 years. We project that the recent rapid proliferation of hydrocarbon zones will lead to a second exploration boom, characterized by over 20 000 km of new seismic testing and construction of over 180 new exploratory wells in remote, intact, and sensitive forest areas. As the Peruvian Amazon oil frontier rapidly expands, we conclude that a rigorous policy debate is urgently needed in order to avoid the major environmental impacts associated with the first exploration boom of the 1970s and to minimize the social conflict that recently led to deadly encounters between indigenous protesters and government forces. Read the full article.