Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT-BOLIVIA: Locals Fight Pipeline in Unique Forest

Alejandro Campos

LA PAZ, Jul 26 1999 (IPS) - The construction of a gas pipeline between Bolivia and Brazil will have serious negative impacts on the Chiquitano Forest, say indigenous organisations and the Bolivian Environmental Forum. The Chiquitano is thought to be one of the last intact dry tropical forests in the world.

These organisations, as well as city governments, civic committees and three provincial environmental forums, released a communique in which they declare their opposition to pipeline construction between San Miguel (Bolivia) and Cuiaba (Brazil) and demand an alternative route.

The construction of the pipeline began July 19, and is expected to be completed by the end of January 2000, announced Steven Hopper, president and general manager of Transredes, one of the stockholders in the joint venture that is building the pipeline.

Gas Oriente Boliviano is the executive firm for the project and consists of the transnational corporations Transredes (60 percent), Enron Corp (20 percent) and Shell (20 percent).

Hopper said 120 million dollars will be invested on the project’s Bolivian side of the border and 380 million on the Brazilian side – where a natural gas power plant will be built.

Beginning in January 2000, the San Miguel-Cuiaba pipeline will transport 2.5 million cubic metres of gas per day, coming from Bolivia and Argentina, added Hopper.

The pipeline will be 610 km long, with a diameter of 18 inches and a capacity of 7.5 million cubic metres of natural gas per day. Its route will begin as a branch off the giant 2,000 km pipeline that runs from Rio Grande (Bolivia) to Sao Paulo (Brazil).

According to Hopper, the pipeline companies have approximately four million dollars at their disposal to support community development projects along the pipeline route. Bolivia will have 335 km of pipeline, while 257 km will be in Brazil.

But the indigenous communities and environmental organisations from eastern Bolivia say the pipeline project’s environmental impact assesment (EIA) was insufficient. Entrix and PCA, the firms that authored the assesment, gave the green light for construction to follow the project’s original plan.

“Several organisations have classified the region as primary tropical forest, but Enron categorised it as a secondary forest in an attempt to play down the direct negative impacts on this fragile ecosystem that covers six million hectares,” says the group’s communique.

The environmental and indigenous groups also questioned the process for consulting the populations along the pipeline route, saying that it was limited and that the people most affected by the pipeline lack information about the EIA and management plans.

The groups protesting pipeline construction affirm in their document that conservation groups from the United States and Bolivia negotiated with project promoters “giving their stamp of approval in exchange for money.”

Among the organisations that allegedly participated in the parallel negotiations are the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the World Conservation Society (WCS), the Missouri Botanical Garden, Friends of the Earth Foundation, and the Noel Kempff Mercado Museum.

The local populations and indigenous groups are responsible for conservation of the area and they own the region’s natural resources, say the anti-pipeline construction groups. This means that making decisions about projects to be implemented in the region are theirs and theirs only, the groups maintain.

“With what legal right have they dared negotiate our natural resources? Have they been caring for and conserving them? Do they live in the region? Nobody here knows them. Can natural resources be bought? Can one put a price on the destruction of the last forest reserves of the planet?” ask the local groups.

At the end of the document, they warn that as long as their demands are not met, the region’s communities and indigenous peoples will not permit pipeline construction.

Bolivia is one of the principal suppliers of clean energy, like natural gas, in South America’s Southern Cone. The country currently sells gas to Argentina and the Sao Paulo region, and plans to expand business to other regions of Brazil and Paraguay.

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