Reasons Why we Should be Avoiding New Oil Exploration Frontiers: Virunga

Even though the planet is experiencing a climate crisis, the oil industry is expanding to new frontiers, with the majority of such frontiers being mature forests or very sensitive areas. 

Currently the world’s oil reserves are 800 billion barrels. If these reserves are burned, more than 320 billion tons of additional co2 would be produced, reaching a critical point for the planet. In order to expand these new frontiers public and private enterprises are applying diverse strategies. One characteristic of “de-globalization” that is increasingly apparent is the re-positioning of nation states over transnational corporations. In this process the permanent beneficiaries become the services companies, because they have an advantageous position with transnational corporations and companies owned by the state.

The expected impacts in this new scheme to exhaust oil reserves and then increase them with new exploration, involve opening new vulnerable zones – especially local ones. They also deepen the dependence of those countries whose economies depend on the extraction and exportation of oil. Because climate change affects food production, it puts populations at risk, especially the coastal ones, and threatens water availability. These aspects should therefore be carefully conserved.

A sustainable model could reduce the vulnerability of climate change, increasing resilience capacity. However, climate change erodes the capacity to adapt to direct and indirect impacts. The burden of these impacts will fall upon the marginal populations, and further widen the gap between north and south, rich and poor.

Some basic criteria to support the proposal of keeping the oil underground, come from recognizing urgent issues such as:

  • Maintaining and developing autonomous and self-sufficient models that: produce zero or close to zero emissions, recycling wastes and working at low levels of entropy, as is the case of the indigenous communities or traditional peoples that maintain a harmonious relationship with nature.
  • Maintaining zones of mature forest, where the structure and functions of the forests contribute to maintaining a hydrologic equilibrium that in turn helps the planet to cool – such as with the tropical forests.
  • National economies that have politics favoring food sovereignty and energy independence based on diverse low impact energy models.
  • Fragile zones exposed to climate change, such as mangrove areas or island states.
  • Arguments for avoiding new oil exploration frontiers
  1. Climate Change

Climate change is now positioned not only on national and international agendas, but also in the everyday lives of people. It is no longer a threat or speculation, but has become a reality that demands concrete and immediate action. The two principal causes of global warming are the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Deforestation of mangroves, for example, could be disastrous for the populations that live in the area because it renders the coasts even more vulnerable. Island forest conservation is one of the few protection guarantees. Forest conservation in general also protects local climates.

  1. Destruction of Biodiversity

The majority of the planet´s biodiversity is located in the South. Oil extraction causes inevitable destruction of biodiversity. However, maybe the most serious and direct impact of this activity are toxic water discharges into the environment as well as other polluting wastes. These substances are bio-accumulative and have a direct relationship with a number of illnesses.

  1. Traditional Peoples

Local populations do not only conserve important biodiversity zones, but through agriculture they have increased it. They also retain information and technical knowledge that is priceless. For these populations the health of the ecosystem is indispensable. For these populations that maintain profound relationships with nature, the conservation of their territory is the only way to guarantee their existence.

  1. Non-Oil Dependent Economies

Non-oil dependent economies have healthier conditions, but those that are dependent on oil quickly present symptoms of the “Dutch sickness”, meaning that all the other productive activities decrease. Oil exploitation is the activity that causes the most environmental and social problems. Corruption, invasions and fraud are all part of the oil industry business.

Developing new and diverse energy sources is a necessity that cannot be postponed, as it will diversify the incomes of national economies that are dependent on the exportation of this non-renewable resource.

  1. Protection of the Selfsufficient Model

There are communities and economies that maintain a self-sufficient scheme that guarantees their food sovereignty with access and control to the entire food cycle. These models have low entropy, so wastes, emissions and garbage production are less than in oil dependent models.

The oil economy promotes food and energy patterns based on this resource that is not only non-renewable but causes great impact during its extraction and consumption.

  1. Destruction of Fresh Water Sources

Fresh water is a basic element for life and it is scarce. The survival of nature depends on its maintenance cycle. However, many oil activities destroy both surface and underground fresh water sources. A basic criterion to determine areas free of oil activities should be water protection.

* Esperanza Martínez, Oilwatch