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One U.S. state consumes half the oil from the Amazon rainforest

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On April 12, 2014, Huaorani natives marched in Quito in support of Yasunidos ecologist groups activists. They were marching towards the National Electoral Council in Quito to collect signatures to hold a referendum against oil exploitation within Yasuni National Park.

Rodrigo Buendia | AFP | Getty Images

This article was created in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.

YASUNÍ NATIONAL PARK, Ecuador — The bulldozers rumble through after sunrise, clearing out massive amounts of trees in this remote and remarkable section of the Amazon rainforest.

This is where endangered white-bellied spider monkeys and giant otters can be seen swinging from one tree to the next. Where a dazzling array of birds — upward of 600 species — nest in the dense canopy. More than 60 types of snakes, 140 frogs, and toads can be found below. 

The Yasuní National Park is home to one of the most diverse collections of plants and animals on the planet. Yet, beneath the 3,800-mile expanse of forest is another treasure: crude oil. There are more than 1,000,000 barrels. 

In the Amazon rainforest, huge amounts of crude oil have been extracted over 50 years. It has led to the loss of vital habitat and increased climate risk for the Indigenous peoples that rely on it.

Now, a state-run oil company that subcontracts its field operations to the Chinese is building a road to reach what will be a new section of wells deep inside Yasuní. 

“It pains me to see how little of our rainforest is still within this protected area,” Nemo Guiquita (a Waorani tribal leader) said during a boat ride through the park. They are giving more oil concessions than we should, and that is why we shouldn’t be fighting for Ecuador’s rainforest. 

The oil extracted from Yasuní and the wider Amazon is exported around the world, but 66 percent goes to the U.S. on average and the vast majority of that to one state in particular: California, according to a new report Exclusively shared with NBC News 

Stand.earth, an environmental group, and Amazon Watch reported that 1 out of 7 fuel tanks in Southern California had been fueled by diesel, gasoline or jet fuel from Amazon. Companies such as Costco, PepsiCo AmazonAccording to the report, it was a total of. 

Angeline Robertson is a senior researcher from Stand.earth, and was the main author of this report. It is happening in California and has been linked to Amazon destruction.

Boom or bust for oil

The promise to bring prosperity to Ecuadorian Amazon in the 1960s inspired oil drilling in Ecuadorian Amazon. The symbolic first crude oil barrel was paraded in Quito as a national hero. 

Over the following decade, Ecuador’s economy rose by a lot. However, Ecuador’s economy began to plummet in the following decade. 

Guillermo Lasso the Ecuadorian president, was elected in May and has pledged to increase oil production by at least doubling. Perhaps nowhere is expected to be impacted more than Yasuní National Park.

The park in eastern Ecuador — which sits at the confluence of the Andes foothills, the western Amazon basin and the equator — is about the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

The forest contains 2.5 acres of more trees per hectare than the entire U.S. Yasuní is also the home of the Waorani people as well as ​​two uncontacted tribes who live deep inside the forest: the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.  

Alejandra Parra | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The 1970s saw the first oil drilling in Ecuador. However, Rafael Correa, then President of the Republic of Brazil proposed an innovative plan in 2007 to preserve the rainforest. He called on the international community to donate about $3.5 billion — roughly half of the revenue Ecuador estimated it would have earned from mining the oil under Yasuní. The plan was scrapped six years later when Ecuador received less than 10% of the goal figure.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said in 2013 as he announced a lifting of the moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuní. 

According to environmentalists, the drilling of hundreds of wells within the national park will require the building roads and other infrastructure. This is likely to increase deforestation. The report states that the construction of the first road in the park has been completed at a distance of less than 1,300 ft from the zone designated as “no go” to safeguard the tribes uncontacted.

Kevin Koenig from Amazon Watch was the climate and environment director. He noted that forests such as this play an essential role in climate mitigation. The forest absorbs enormous amounts of carbon and helps reduce carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. 

Koenig declared, “It is a recipe of climate disaster to be searching for new oil and cutting standing forest to get it.” This is a double-whammy, and everybody needs to be worried.

Gas flares

Nemo Guiquita is a Waorani leader who has been resisting the expansion of oil drilling within her tribal homeland for many years. Her grandmother Nayuma, a Waorani, was said to have been the first Waorani ever to contact the outside world sixty years ago.

Guiquita stated, “The rainforest is our home.” It’s our home, our pharmacy and our all.

There are more than 400 gas flares scattered across the Amazon’s scarred terrain. The natural gas flares release chemicals from burning oil wells, which can cause clouds in the air.

An Ecuadorian court issued a directive to oil companies in January to stop using gas flares. This was after an Amazonian group filed a complaint alleging that they had caused over 200 cancers by their flares.

Javier Solis is a local lawyer representing one of these communities. He said that the government has not yet set a time for the removal old flares. Solis escorted an NBC News videographer into a section of forest outside Yasuní to see what he described as one of the Amazon’s biggest oil flares. 

“The circumference can be as high as 300 meters.” [330 yards]Solis explained that the river and groundwater used by neighboring communities are affected. 

The road being built in Yasuní has pushed several miles deeper into the forest over the last couple of years, according to Pedro Bermeo, a spokesperson for YASunidos, a group created to protect the park.

Bermeo’s crew risked being arrested when they flew a drone in July over the region and recorded footage of bulldozers and excavators cutting through rainforest.

Bermeo stated, “What if there is oil beneath Quito?” Would we be able to displace Quito’s people in order to get the oil? It’s not possible. It’s not possible. But, when the conflict is in the rainforest, and it involves Indigenous communities, there are no considerations for their well-being.

Bermeo is well aware of the economic drivers that drive the growth of Amazonian oil drilling.

According to Bloomberg, Ecuador’s government has more than $18 Billion in Chinese debt. a database run by Boston University and the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, and oil revenues are critical to paying down the loans. 

Ecuador has sold oil exploration rights in and around Yasuní National Park to a consortium of Chinese state-owned oil companies despite fierce opposition from Indigenous groups and environmentalists.

Bermeo stated that the Chinese oil companies are those who make the most. The Chinese oil companies are subcontractors to Ecuadorian firms for exploration, drilling, infrastructure. They make all the money.

Andes Petroleum in China and PetroOriente in China did not reply to my request. 

A request for comment was also not received by the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington

Oil where is it going? 

The report that was shared with NBC News shows Ecuador not being the only South American country exporting oil from Amazon. 

Around 7 percent of all Amazon oil exports worldwide came from Colombia and Peru. The remaining 93 percent is made up by Ecuador. (Brazil, Peru and other South American nations that have the Amazon did not export oil from below it).

The United States was the biggest global buyer of oil last year, with 70 million barrels coming from Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. According to the report, Panama was second with almost 22 million barrels of oil followed by Chile (11.3 million) and China (10 million).

California was responsible for almost 56 million barrels. This is more than any of the other five states that got it: Texas (6million), Louisiana (6million), Mississippi (0.5m), Washington (0.4m).

The California Environmental Protection Agency stated in a statement that the state has invested more than $15Billion into its climate agenda. This includes $4B to help accelerate transition to zero emission vehicles.

According to the agency, “We must not sacrifice the existence of the planet’s habitability or the survival and well-being of the most vulnerable communities in order to support a dying industry.” California needs to eliminate fossil fuel dependence, no matter if they are from crucial regions such as the Amazon or right next to our homes and schools.

Reporters tracked oil shipments below the Amazon from the U.S. to U.S.A and beyond using records from U.S. Energy Information Administration, United Nations Comtrade Database, and import/export databases from Ecuador, Colombia Peru, Brazil, and the U.S. 

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To calculate the fuel consumption for Amazon oil that was used by U.S. businesses, the researchers looked at a variety of sources including reports from companies and databases of the state and federal governments.

According to the report, about half the Amazon oil shipped to California was sent to the three Los Angeles-area refineries. 

Californian drivers can fill up with Amazon oil at stations owned by big brands like Marathon, Chevron Shell. Marathon was 2020’s most popular brand (339,000,000 gallons), however, it still trails unbranded gasoline (479 millions). 

You can purchase gasoline from Amazon by motorcyclists at fuel stations in supermarkets like Costco or Safeway. Walmart. They are also used by these companies for their fleets. According to the report, Costco was last year’s top Amazon oil consumer (19 million gallons).

The total amount of fuel consumed by major airlines operating in California was 123,000,000 gallons. It came from Amazon. Top consumer: American AirlinesFollowed by (31,000,000 gallons). United(35.05 million gallons). DeltaThe report estimates that there were 30 million gallons. 

PepsiCo (4.5 million gallons), was the largest consumer of Amazon diesel by food- and beverage delivery businesses. Amazon (13.3 Million gallons), slightly topped the list of parcel delivery companies. UPS(13.1 Million gallons). FedEx (12 million). 

It urged business leaders to urge no further oil expansion in Amazonia and establish aggressive goals for electric vehicles and other strategies that reduce fossil fuel use.

On November 9, 2012, a view of the Ecuadorean Yasuni National Park in Orellana, Ecuador.

Pablo Cozzaglio | AFP | Getty Images

NBC News reached out at all the companies listed in this article. Delta was the only company to respond. It stated that it is moving away from jet fuel in favor of sustainable aviation fuel, and hopes to have 10 percent of total fuel supplies by 2030.

Ed Hirs is an energy fellow at University of Houston and said that he wasn’t surprised by the fact that so much oil from Amazon winds up in California due to its close proximity. 

Hirs suggested that the cost of transportation is probably what it is. It takes seven to eight days from Ecuador to California, as opposed to the weeks it would take from the Middle East.

Hirs noted that the report demonstrates a stark reality about the international oil marketplace: California will continue to consume crude oil from Amazon even if it were to cease. 

Hirs stated, “I cannot argue with their talk about the damage and environmental problems.” Is this a problem or not? Absolutely. California could do nothing about it. No. That oil could be purchased for 50 cents per barrel.

Robertson stated that she and her coworkers aren’t asking California to stop buying oil from Amazon immediately, but Robertson hopes officials in government and business leaders will take action to decrease their dependency as part of an overall plan to curb the use fossil fuels.  

Robertson stated, “It is within the realms of possibility and part of what’s necessary.” It should be central to California’s strategy for dealing with climate change.

Santiago Cornejo was a reporter from Ecuador. Rich Schapiro, Christine Romo contributed reporting from New York.  

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