Our group has been hearing about the importance of the oil industry in Ecuador since our first day in the country. Earlier we heard a presentation from EP Petroecuador in Quito about the structure and policies regarding oil extraction, refinement, and exportation. EP Petroecuador is the nationalized public company responsible for refinement, commercialization, and exportation of petroleum products. A second nationalized company, Petroamazonas EP, is responsible for exploration and the extraction of oil. Both of these companies are under national and international policies that attempt to protect the rights of people and the environment during oil production.
On Wednesday we had the privilege of visiting an oil well run by Petroamazonas, an extremely rare opportunity as they do not often accept visitors. Two engineers from Quito gave us a tour of one oil platforms undergoing routine maintenance here in the Amazon. Many of us were expecting huge towers and drills, but instead found a fenced off area about the size of a football field with a few pipes coming up from the ground. The whole system is automatic and underground with branching extraction tubes to decrease overall environmental impact.
Although it is easy to criticize the oil industry from the outside, we had to recognize that we are extremely dependent on the oil being extracted in our everyday lives. Ecuador has implemented many policies to protect the people and the environment far beyond what many international companies including those in the US have in place. Before Petroamazonas EP can extract any oil they need consent from the owners of the land and are under strict environmental policy to protect the surrounding forest. Whether these policies are followed in every case of oil extraction is a whole new can of worms, but overall Ecuador is doing a good job of incorporating people and the planet into their vision for the future economy.
By Skye McKinnell