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Thu Mar 12, 2015, 04:42 PM

Big oil moves into the Amazon rainforest - what's the cost of losing large swaths of the rainforest?

http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0806.htm
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Some of the world's most promising oil and gas deposits lie deep in tropical rainforests, especially in the Western Amazon. With oil at historically high prices, the incentive to develop oil resources has never been greater.

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The development of oil in the Ecuadorean Amazon is a particularly poignant example, but it is no means unusual for oil projects in rainforests. Typically, an oil company cuts access roads through the forest. These roads are followed by transient settlers who colonize and damage the surrounding forest through slash-and-burn agriculture, the introduction of domestic animals, hunting, and the collection of fuelwood. Oil companies sometimes "flare" or burn natural gas that is a by-product of drilling. The flames, which burn in the open air, contribute both to local air pollution and increase the risk of forest fires.

The oil extraction process can be messy and destructive. Spills result from burst pipelines and toxic drilling by-products may be dumped directly into local creeks and rivers. Some of the more toxic chemicals are stored in open waste pits and may pollute the surrounding lands and waterways. Oil spills can wreak havoc on rivers and aquatic ecosystems, while clean-up efforts are complicated by the complexity of tropical river systems, which may include floating meadows, swamp forest, oxbow lakes, flooded forest, and sand bars.

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Over-reliance on oil can also impact the government's responsiveness to its citizens. Michael Ross, an associate professor of political science at the University of California at Los Angeles, has argued that oil-rich countries do less to help their poor than do countries without oil and are plagued with lower literacy rates, score lower on measures like the UN's "Human Development Index," and have higher child mortality and malnutrition. How is this possible? An article in The Economist explains, "Unlike agriculture, the oil sector employs few unskilled people. The inherent volatility of commodity prices hurts the poor the most, as they are least able to hedge their risks. And because the resource is concentrated, the resulting wealth passes through only a few hands—and so is more susceptible to misdirection." Since oil revenues are sometimes funneled directly to rulers, governments have little need to raise revenues through taxes and be accountable to their citizens.
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[font size="+1"] There is a new role for biofuels that hasn't been considered before. [/font] As oil companies, looking for additional sources of oil, move into the tropical rainforests - in a big way - the role of protecting the rainforests may become as significant a consideration for the increased use of biofuels as it's role in reducing GHG emissions (although in the end they are one in the same). I think people should start considering what will be the impact and costs of losing large swaths of the rainforest as drilling for oil becomes a larger fact of life in the tropical rainforests.


Ethanol (and methanol if we invested in it) by competing with gasoline reduces the price of petroleum/gasoline. If we added methanol to the mix, we could more rapidly replace gasoline as the fuel for light vehicle transportation *. Increased use of biofuels and the decreased demand for gasoline will drive down the price of gas even more than it already has. A decreased price for petroleum would make drilling in the rainforests a less viable business plan. While the benefits of reducing GHG emissions from increased biofuel use by themselves make expanded use of biofuels imperative, the benefits of saving large swaths of the rainforest have not been calculated and could very well be of enormous import to the effort to fight Global Warming. (note: the effects of significant increases in deforestation are not linear. Significantly larger losses of rainforest would most likely have much larger impacts than have been considered so far). --- I am not aware of any studies considering the impacts on the climate of significant losses of tropical rainforest.

Considering the jeopardy the tropical rainforests are in, this makes rejection of non-empirically based, hysterical fables about ethanol and oil industry disinformation on biofuels an eminent imperative.


* Our ethanol supply from plant sources is probably limited to about 15% of our needs for light transportation fuel, barring any considerable improvements in manufacturing processes. Methanol is currently made from natural gas, but can also be made from agricultural and forestry waste in much larger volume than ethanol. We could increase methanol production much more quickly than other alternative fuel sources and blend it with gasoline and ethanol. Increased substitution of methanol for gasoline could reduce our demand for petroleum by an additional 10% in possibly a decade (with a serious commitment to this course) and another 10% to 20% in another decade - achieving a 30% to 40% reduction in our demand for gasoline. A reduction in demand for gasoline of 20% would have a very significant impact on the price of petroleum. A reduction in demand of 30% would have an even larger impact - greater than a linear relationship (between demand and price) would produce. This is without consideration of adaptation of engine designs which take advantage of alcohol's higher octane which could significantly increase engine performance - increasing the reduction in demand for gasoline.


[font size="+1"]Also check out: Deforestation: What’s driving it? Oil in the Rainforest [/font]

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