Assessing Extractives threat in the Amazon

20 January 2017

Between 2005 and 2010 there has been an explosion of extractive claims (oil, gas and mining) in South America and particularly in the Amazon. Although the number of contracts and claims granted per year has slowed, the area under potential threat is significant. Recent research using the WWF-SIGHT tool and data found that 15% of the Amazon biome is potentially covered by mining claims and oil and gas contracts; although this figure is much higher at 30 %,  if claims just overlapping protected areas are considered.


Zoomable map of the Amazon Biome

Extractives development in the Amazon basin
Between 2005 and 2010 there has been an explosion of extractive claims (oil, gas and mining) in South America and particularly in the Amazon. Although the number of contracts and claims granted per year has slowed, the area under potential threat is significant. Recent research using the WWF-SIGHT tool and data found that 15% of the Amazon biome is potentially covered by mining claims and oil and gas contracts; although this figure is much higher at 30 %, if claims just overlapping protected areas are considered.

What are the potential risks?
Even well managed mines clear forests, create tailings and open areas for other use through creating a road and energy network. Poorly managed and illegal mining can create devastation, including release of toxic chemicals like mercury. Hydrocarbon operations are also growing, particularly in the Andean Amazon, including controversial projects such as poorly executed hydrocarbon developments in northern Peru; the massive potential for further oil extraction in the Yasuní region of Ecuador; and exploration in Putumayo (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador), Madidi (Bolivia) and Amazonas (Brazil). Mining and oil companies know that protected area status is often no block to their operations. Stronger controls and best practice are both urgently needed. Research and analysis conducted with WWF-SIGHT in May 2016, found that 15 per cent of the Amazon biome is potentially covered by mining claims and oil and gas contracts; although this figure is much higher, 30 per cent, if claims in just protected areas are considered. Furthermore, informal and artisanal mining operate over such huge areas, particularly in Peru, Colombia and Surinam that it is no longer “small-scale”.

For more information, contact: Susanne Schmitt, SSchmitt@wwf.org.uk

The meandering course of river Rio Pinquen, Amazon rainforest, Peru The meandering course of river Rio Pinquen, Amazon rainforest.