Venezuela plans 5000-mile pipeline across Amazon rain forest
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
January 25, 2006
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president, announced a plan to build a massive gas pipeline that would carry natural gas from the oil rich state 5,000 miles south. Environmentalists fear that the project could damage the Amazon rain forest by polluting waterways and creating roads that would attract developers and poor farmers, while analysts question the wisdom and viability of the plan which may cost $20-50 billion depending on who makes the estimate.
According to a news report from the Associated Press, Brazil and Argentina have little incentive to participate in such an expensive project given their own gas reserves. Further, it is likely that Brazil’s tough environmental laws could make the gas pipeline difficult to build especially if Venezuelan companies were in charge of construction.
In the past, pipelines and energy projects have had a significant environmental impact in the Amazon rain forest. Oil pipelines have spilled large volumes of crude, while roads have opened extensive areas to land clearing by ranchers, loggers, land speculators, and subsistence farmers. Chevron, a large American oil company, is currently facing a $6 billion lawsuit on the grounds that pollution from Texaco’s—a firm Chevron has since acquired—oil operations caused wide-ranging health problems for forest dwellers in Ecuador. The plaintiffs charge the firm was dumping more than 20 billion gallons of toxic drilling by-products into local waterways and spilling some 17 million gallons of crude oil.
Pipeline in Ecuador
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest. Home to perhaps 50 percent of the world’s species, the forest is under threat from commercial interests and subsistence use. Already 210,000 square miles have been lost since 1978. Scientists are concerned that continued deforestation could leave the Amazon increasingly at risk to massive forests fires and release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Venezuela is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States. Despite this relationship, president Chavez has rankled the American government with his anti-American positions. There is growing concern in some circles that Chavez is using his country’s oil wealth to influence elections in other South American countries, like the recent contest in Bolivia.