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Bolivia opens protected areas to oil companies

Bolivia has opened millions of hectares of protected areas to oil and gas extraction, reports The Guardian.

The law, passed last month, grants exploration rights in at least 11 of Bolivia’s 22 protected areas, including up to 75 percent of Madidi National Park, a renowned protected area that hosts 11 percent of the world’s bird species.

While oil and gas development in these areas still requires an independent Environmental Impact Assessment, critics say that process has been significantly weakened in recent years, raising concerns about the potential impacts of the change. Furthermore the law potentially “radically” modifies the concept of protected areas in the country, according to Jorge Campanini of Bolivia’s Documentation and Information Centre (CEDIB) who wrote a story on the development for La Razon last month.

“[The new law] is a death certificate [for] our natural heritage,” he wrote.

RAISG map showing oil and gas licenses in Bolivia as of 2010.
RAISG map showing oil and gas licenses in Bolivia as of 2010. Click to enlarge

The new law comes on top of recent measures to facilitate the opening up of forests for industrial agricultural conversion.

According to data hosted on Global Forest Watch, forest loss in Bolivia has been trending upward since 2000. Forest disappearance has been concentrated in the eastern parts of the country, where agricultural expansion is rapidly occurring.