By Elissa Dennis
Dollars & Sense
In the far eastern reaches of Ecuador, in the Amazon basin rain forest, lies a land of incredible beauty and biological diversity. More than 2,200 varieties of trees reach for the sky, providing a habitat for more species of birds, bats, insects, frogs, and fish than can be found almost anywhere else in the world. Indigenous Waorani people have made the land their home for millennia, including the last two tribes living in voluntary isolation in the country. The land was established as Yasuní National Park in 1979, and recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1989.
Underneath this landscape lies a different type of natural resource: petroleum. Since 1972, oil has been Ecuador’s primary export, representing 57% of the country’s exports in 2008; oil revenues comprised on average 26% of the government’s revenue between 2000 and 2007. More than 1.1 billion barrels of heavy crude oil have been extracted from Yasuní, about one quarter of the nation’s production to date.