• Hill Heat
  • Posts
  • The People Keep the Oil in the Ground

The People Keep the Oil in the Ground

In Ecuador. Plus: Biden keeps some oil in the ground


Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo shows hands stained with oil from a nearby spill in the province of Sucumbios, Ecuador, on June 26. Credit: Sophie Pinchetti

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, with coastal, mountain, island, and rainforest habitats. The Amazon rainforest in Ecuador is teeming with life and home to Indigenous peoples, who have been fighting against incursions by oil companies and the oil-friendly government for decades. But the pressure to drill for oil and the temporary riches it brings to the state is immense.

In a historic victory during the hottest summer in human history, the Ecuadorian people voted resoundingly in favor of a referendum to block oil drilling and dismantle wells in Yasuní National Park, home to at least two Indigenous tribes, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, both of whom have decided not to interact with the outside world.

In 2007, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa pleaded with the international community to provide support of $3.6 billion to keep the park’s oil in the ground—but none was forthcoming, and in 2016 oil drilling began.

As Jonathan Watts describes, this was a hard-won victory:

The Ecuadorian authorities did everything in their power to prevent this happening. The government initially refused to accept a petition with 750,000 signatures, even though this was nearly double the threshold needed to initiate a referendum. Years later, when the courts ruled the proposal was finally to be put on the ballot, the campaign was vehemently opposed by the president, Guillermo Lasso. The head of Petroecuador warned his state-run company would lose $13.8 billion over 20 years from denied income and the cost of blocking the well and clearing the site.

Watts concludes, “the most important message from Ecuador’s referendum is the simplest: it is possible to say no to oil.”

We now have the power to let go of the oil companies and give victory to land, water and life,” Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous leader of the Waorani people, told Al Jazeera.

Nenquimo added that the vote would be “a day we will remember as the day the planet started to win, and corrupt politicians and oil companies lost.”

The referendum took place soon after anti-corruption journalist and presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated; next month Ecuadorians go to the polls to choose between the leftist Luisa González and banana scion Daniel Noboa as Lasso’s successor.

In a related victory, yesterday Interior Secretary Deb Haaland canceled seven Alaskan oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge issued by the Trump administration, arguing the sales were legally flawed.

“With climate change warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” Haaland said, “we must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem.”

*Artificially Flavored

Speaking of bananas: how about that GOP presidential debate?

Last month’s clown-car pile-up during the hottest summer in human history was a good reminder that any claims of the death of climate denial are very wrong. When the eight candidates who are going to lose the nomination to the felonious Donald Trump were asked to raise their hands if they believe human behavior is causing climate change, only Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) did so, before Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) broke in with a demand for a “debate.” To rowdy cheers, the alt-right chatbot Vivek Ramaswamy blurted out, “the climate change agenda is a hoax!”

Thousands of emperor penguin chicks across four colonies in Antarctica are believed to have died because of record-low sea ice levels that caused a “catastrophic breeding failure” in late 2022.

During the hottest summer in human history, a wildfire in Greece was declared the largest in the EU this century.

Headed towards a cliff, humanity is stepping on the gas. According to the International Monetary Fund, fossil fuels were subsidized with $7 trillion last year; that’s a rate of $13 million a minute.

A post shared by @justin.worsley

On the Hill today, the Senate is meeting.

Environment and Public Works chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) leads a second hearing on the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s water and sewer funding (the first was in March), with testimony from officials from North Carolina, the District of Columbia, and North Dakota.

Banking chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) looks at the impact on consumers of the “challenges” in the property insurance market with Consumer Federation of America’s Doug Heller, retirement home lobbyist Michelle Norris, and former insurance industry executive Jerry Theodorou, now with the center-right R Street Institute. The floods, storms, and fires caused by climate pollution are motivating property insurers to abandon Florida, California, Texas, and Louisiana—or demand extortionate deals from the states to remain.

Energy chair Joe Manchin (D-Coal) has a hearing on artificial intelligence and the Department of Energy, because why not.

The chair of the Foreign Relations western hemisphere subcommittee, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), oversees a hearing on budget priorities for the Americas, with Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian A. Nichols, USAID’s Latin America and Caribbean administrator Marcela Escobari, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs chief Todd Robinson.

Hearings on the Hill:

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. Connect with me@[email protected] and @climatebrad.hillheat.com on BlueSky

Subscribe to Hill Heat

Climate science, policy, politics, and action

Join the conversation

or to participate.