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digging to disaster - brazil's urucu gas pipeline ignores history

petrobas, brazil | el paso energy partners, us

“The pipeline will not have beneficial results because there is no advantage and no assistance to indigenous people. The pipeline passes close to the indigenous reserve, and will damage indigenous lands and people. We are expecting problems like alcohol consumption due to contact with workers. And there is also the family problem. The men that will come don't have families, and we then have a problem with prostitution.” João Batista Apurinã, leader of the Union of Indigenous People from the Purus River


Petrobas, a Brazilian government-owned company, plans to build a 550-kilometre gas pipeline through one of Brazil’s most pristine wilderness areas in the Amazon to transport natural gas to electricity generating plants in Rondonia. The fast-growing US-based energy transnational El Paso owns the generating plants to be supplied by the Urucu pipeline.


Petrobras constructed the first phase of the gas pipeline, linking the Urucu reserve to the city of Coari, in 1998. This initial bit of the pipeline has had an adverse impact on local communities and the forest along its 280-kilometre trajectory. Some communities ended up with polluted water. Fish, their main economic resource, have vanished. The city of Coari has become a centre for child prostitution.


History shows that other major infrastructure projects in the region have also had negative impacts. The Juma indigenous people were devastated by the construction of the Transamazonica Highway in the 1970s, for example, and they count only seven survivors today.


The Urucu gas pipeline would open the door to loggers, miners, farmers and agriculturalists from Rondonia to intact areas of the Amazon. This could deforest one of the region’s most preserved sites, inhabited by extremely isolated and vulnerable indigenous groups such as the Apurinã, Paumari, Deni and the remaining Juma.


The Environmental Impact Study presented by Petrobas has been criticized by NGOs, led by Friends of the Earth Brazilian Amazon. The company carried out only two short field trips, clearly insufficient to accurately describe the 550 kilometres to be crossed. Some indigenous groups who may be affected were not even visited, and potential impacts were underplayed and even denied by the company.


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