QUITO, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Flora and fauna affected by oil production in Ecuador’s Yasuni Amazon reserve will take many years to recover, Environment Minister José Davalos said on Tuesday, making fear that a hasty closure of mining operations could lead to environmental damage.
Ecuador is preparing to close Block 43-ITT, operated by state-owned Petroecuador, after a majority of Ecuadorians voted to close the project in August.
The government of outgoing President Guillermo Lasso, whose replacement will be elected on October 15, is preparing a plan to close the block – which produces around 58,000 barrels per day (bpd) – which the country’s next leader will have to implement.
This plan will not guarantee that the area surrounding the block will return to its natural state in the short term, Davalos said.
“Many, many years will pass before the trees reach their appropriate height, the ecosystem is restored and the animals return,” Davalos said in an interview with Reuters.
Although oil wells have been shut in before, Ecuador does not have the experience abandoning an entire block of this size, which includes three fields and about 230 operating wells, he said.
Petroecuador has a year to suspend operations, which will cause Ecuador’s crude output to fall by 12% and cost the country some $13.8 billion over the next two decades, according to official data.
Abandoning the block could cost nearly $500 million, according to Petroecuador.
Environmentalists and some neighboring communities insist that banning future oil operations and other extractive industries is the only way to care for nature and curb climate change.
While some groups have demanded an immediate cessation of operations at 43-ITT, Davalos said an orderly closure is necessary.
Leaving abandoned infrastructure, such as a road, could serve as a “gateway … to illegal logging,” Davalos said, adding that it could also lead to “illegal and indiscriminate hunting” of wildlife. .
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama Written by Oliver Griffin
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