The Growing Footprint: Resource
Extraction Investments Expand
Further into the Humid Tropics
Ian A. Bowles
Glenn T. Prickett
Extractive industries (logging, mining, oil and gas development) and the infrastructure associated with them (roads, pipelines, transmission lines) have had significant environmental impacts worldwide. Today the potential impact of these industries on global biological diversity is growing, as they focus increasingly on new opportunities in resource-rich developing countries, including some of the world's most sensitive and poorly understood natural ecosystems. In the next decade, for example, it is expected that a significant portion of all new oil exploration and production will occur in the humid tropics. The discovery of new reserves and the liberalization of developing country economies are pressing development further into the last undisturbed tropical ecosystems—home to the world's greatest biodiversity and the least contacted indigenous cultures.
Tropical Latin America is a case in point. Areas like the Amazon regions of Peru and Colombia, as well as northern Guatemala, were, until recently, unattractive for major petroleum development due to political and economic instability. In recent years, however, much has changed. For example, Colombia is now host to the largest oil discovery in the Western Hemisphere in twenty years. Peru is host to a similarly large natural gas discovery at the Camisea field. And in Guatemala, oil development in the Petén region—largely in areas that overlap the ecologically sensitive Maya Biosphere Reserve—has returned after years of being largely stalled. The same trends hold true for mineral development. Between 1991 and 1996, investment in mineral exploration in Latin America more than doubled, from $300 to $700 million. Indeed, a 1996 survey of mining company executives