Reinventing the Well
Approaches to Minimizing the
Environmental and Social Impact
of Oil Development in the Tropics
Amy B. Rosenfeld
In a continuing search for new reservoirs of oil and gas to meet growing global energy demand, oil companies are expanding their exploration and production activities into some of the planet's most sensitive and remote ecosystems. The geographical focus of much of this new activity is the humid tropics—an area expected to be the site of a significant percentage of all new oil development in the next decade. In many cases, these tropical areas are not just host to huge reserves of oil but also are of global significance for conservation due to their rich biological diversity.
The history of oil development in sensitive tropical ecosystems has been marked by conflicts with environmentalists and isolated indigenous communities. In many cases, this development has resulted in irreversible environmental damage and severe social disruption. New technologies and innovative management approaches—as well as improved communications among companies, governments, and local groups—have made it more likely that the risks of oil development in certain cases can be reduced. Petroleum development in these areas will often occur in a context of weak regulatory structures, requiring interested companies to voluntarily establish higher standards to address the environmental and social impacts of their investments.
This chapter provides a brief overview of trends in oil development in the tropics, followed by a summary of the potential environmental and social impacts of these activities and a discussion of a range of approaches and mechanisms—principally environmental but also social and financial—that can be utilized to reduce these impacts. It concludes with a series of general recommendations of ways for