Rica Rejects Oil-Drilling
May 17, 9:13 AM ET
are hailing as a major victory the unprecedented rejection
by the Costa Rican government of a request by a United
States oil consortium for permission to drill along
the country's Caribbean coast.
decision, announced by the Costa Rican environment ministry
last week, was "an important step in protecting
the world's oceans and biodiversity," Mark Helm,
a spokesman for Friends of the Earth (news - web sites)
in Washington, said Thursday.
"It is our hope that the United States will follow
Costa Rica's lead and see it as a model for environmental
protection and reducing our dangerous dependence on
oil," he added.
decision was very appropriate as we mark the tenth anniversary
this month of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro,"
said Martha Honey, director of the Ecotourism and Sustainable
Development project of the Washington-based Institute
for Policy Studies.
Latin America, Costa Rica has long been a pioneer in
protecting the environment and renewable resources,
so it's...fitting that the government could take this
important decision, especially as we've seen the damage
that oil drilling has done elsewhere in the region."
decision, announced two days before last week's inauguration
of Costa Rica's new president, Abel Pacheco de la Espiella,
ensures for now that one of the region's most biologically
diverse coastal ecosystems will not be threatened by
his inaugural speech, Pacheco himself suggested that
he was satisfied with the decision. Costa Rica, he said,
should become "an ecological leader, not an oil
late February, the National Technical Secretariat (SETENA)
of the environment ministry rejected an environmental
impact statement filed almost two years ago by a U.S.
consortium consisting of Texas-based Harken Energy company
and Louisiana-based MKJ Xplorations. They had wanted
to explore for oil just off the coast of Limon.
region where the consortium wanted to drill, however,
constitutes part of the special biodiversity zone, which
is home to rare species, such as tucuxi fresh-water
dolphin, marine turtles, and manatees, as well as indigenous
of the development--including local communities, Inter-American
Association for Environmental Defense, Accion por la
Biodiversidad, Anti-Petroleum Action (ADELA), Earthjustice,
and Oil Watch--mobilized against the project, arguing
that it could pose a major threat to three Caribbean
wetlands recognized by an international conservation
treaty as deserving special protection.
which led a major, 18-month consultation process, found
that activities described in the consortium's impact
statement could have a negative effect on both the ecology
of the area and on local communities which have begun
to benefit from Costa Rica's booming eco-tourism industry.
exploration leads to a great uncertainty regarding environmental
risk...and represents a possible threat to the consolidation
of a Meso-American Biological Corridor," the decision
stated. "Such an activity contradicts Costa Rica's
image as a leader in the field of conservation of natural
consortium charged that the agency's decision was "politically
motivated" and appealed to environment minister
Elizabeth Odio to overturn it. But she upheld the decision.
to an account by Chile-based news agency Noticias Aliadas,
at the core of the debate was a controversial 1994 law
on hydrocarbons which divided the country into 27 oil
and natural gas exploration blocks, including some encroaching
on indigenous reserves and protected lands, that were
opened to bidding by foreign companies five years ago.
consortium acquired four of the blocks in 1998, which
was followed in 1999 by a contract with the government
to explore them.
December, Costa Rica's Supreme Court ruled that the
process of granting concessions was unconstitutional.
But the SETENA decision, according to Oil Watch's Costa
Rica spokesman, Mauricio Alvarez, goes beyond the court's
ruling by explicitly relying on international environmental
treaties, including the Declaration of Rio on Development
and the Environment, signed at the last United Nations
(news - web sites) "Earth Summit" in 1992.