California is largest consumer of oil being drilled in the Amazon

One in nine gallons of fuel pumped in California in 2020 came from the at-risk Amazon rainforest

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 03 December 2021 22:52
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Deforestation In The Amazon Is At Its Worst Level Since 2006
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California consumes the majority of oil drilled in rainforests of the western Amazon basin, which exacerbates the climate crisis and causes significant soil, water, and air pollution, particularly for Indigenous communities.

A new study, from Stand.earth and Amazon Watch, found that about half of the oil extracted, mainly in the tropical forests of Ecuador, is being converted into fuel in California for major corporations.

One in nine gallons of fuel pumped in the Golden State last year was drilled in the Amazon, the research found.

About 90 per cent of crude oil exported from the western Amazon each year comes from Ecuador, and two-thirds is piped to the US. The top three companies using oil from the Amazon – Marathon (27%), Valero (22%) and Chevron (17%) - are all based in California, the research found.

“Chevron’s role is particularly notable, since the company is connected to some of the oil industry’s worst impacts in the Amazon, as well as in California,” the researchers say.

“Chevron has spent nearly $2 billion fighting its court-ordered mandate to pay $9.5 billion in clean-up and community reparations costs that it is responsible for in Ecuador.”

The conservation groups alleged that hundreds of open oil pits are still draining into the water supply in the region, impacting local communities and the forest and rivers.

In a statement, Chevron said: “The allegations against Chevron in Ecuador are false. U.S. and international courts, including an arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, have determined the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron is fraudulent and the product of judicial bribery, extortion, falsified evidence, and other illegalities by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.”

The western Amazon – which includes parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Brazil – is one of the planet’s richest areas of biodiversity and home to over 600,000 Indigenous people, including some of the world’s last un-contacted people living in voluntary isolation.

Unlike the eastern Brazilian Amazon, the west remains largely intact. But millions of hectares face imminent threat from industrial development as beneath this pristine landscape are vast, untapped reserves of oil and gas.

Tropical rainforests are natural allies against the climate crisis. Old-growth trees store carbon, mitigating the global heating largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

In Brazil, an estimated 13,235 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest was lost in 2020-21, according to data from the National Institute of Space Research (INPE). It represents a 22 per cent increase in deforestation over one year, and the highest level in more than 15 years.

Earlier this year researchers set off alarm bells after finding that the Amazon, long believed to be absorbing human-caused pollution, had instead emitted close to one-fifth more carbon into the atmosphere than it stored between 2010 and 2019.

“We don’t know at what point the changeover could become irreversible,” said scientist and the study’s co-author Jean-Pierre Wigneron, from France’s National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA).

California has been lauded for its progressive approach to tackling the climate crisis. The state plans to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, and end oil production by 2045.

California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has also proposed to ban new drilling wells within 3,200 feet of schools and homes, a plan which has been met by strong opposition from the oil industry. More than 2 million Californians live within that range of oil and gas wells, which studies show can elevate the risks of birth defects, respiratory issues and other health problems.

The state is already suffering acute impacts from the climate crisis. A record number of wildfires erupted in 2020, and this year some 2.5m acres have burned – close to double the average over the past five years. The length of fire season has also increased by 75 days, according to the state fire agency Cal Fire.

A megadrought has gripped California and other western states. Most of California remains at the highest levels of extreme or exceptional drought even in the traditional rainy season.

But the state, by itself the fifth-largest economy in the world, still remains heavily-dependent on fossil fuels.

Among the Stand/Amazon Watch study’s findings were:

  • 123 million gallons of jet fuel from the Amazon was consumed by major airlines at Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports. Researchers noted that LAX in particular consumes more oil from the Amazon than any other airport in the world - an average of one in every six gallons
  • 1.9 billion gallons of gas and diesel extracted from the Amazon sold by major oil companies in California in 2019
  • 43 million gallons of diesel and gas from the Amazon consumed by major supermarkets for their fleets and retail fuel stations in 2020.

To keep up with high demand from the US, the government of Ecuador is set to double oil production which risks fragmenting the untouched rainforests with roads and infrastructure.

The researchers also noted that there is a strong link between oil drilling and deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Deforestation, changes in land-use and colonization of the Amazon by corporations threatens Indigenous communities and their ways of life.

The report notes that the crude oil is carried via pipelines from the Amazon, up over the Andes, to the Pacific Coast.

The pipelines have a long history of ruptures and spills, the researchers say. In April 2020 a pipeline rupture contaminated hundreds of miles of two major rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the report states, and impacted tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples “who depend on these rivers to survive”.

Gas flares from oil wells add to air pollution and has increased the number of respiratory illnesses, according to the report. The fossil fuel extraction is also impacting fish and animals which made up local diets.

“Oil drilling in our Amazon has brought contamination, disease, deforestation, destruction of our cultures, and the colonization of our territories. It is an existential threat for us and violates our fundamental rights as Indigenous peoples,” says Nemo Andy Guiquita, a Waorani Indigenous leader and director of Women and Health for the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

“We are calling for an end to all new extraction on our lands, and as our ancestors and science now affirm, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground, in accordance with the commitments of the Paris Agreement and at COP 26 in Glasgow.”

In Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, the traditional territory of the Waorani, there are eight oil blocks, and plans to drill over 600 new wells, according to the report.

And plans to open more new wells represent a genocidal threat for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, Ecuador’s last Indigenous peoples living in isolation.

Ecuador’s national and Amazonian Indigenous confederations, with the Waorani, and civil society organizations recently filed suit against the government, calling the expansion a “policy of death”.

Indigenous leaders have called for protecting 80 per cent of Amazonia by 2025.

This article has been updated to reflect Chevron’s response

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