Development, Tradition on Opposite Sides in South American Energy Battles

Given its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, the Amazon basin should be heaven for extractive industries. Instead, the people who make their home in the basin are trying to make life hell for energy companies. Over the years, Amazon natives have become both more sophisticated and more forceful in efforts to protect their pristine homeland — efforts that include everything from protests and lawsuits to vandalism and kidnappings. At issue is the struggle to balance national growth with traditional culture, and the stakes could scarcely be higher: millennia-old ways of life on the one hand, and South America’s future role in the international economy on the other. A short list of proposed projects in the region includes 800 miles of pipeline in Peru, a $1 billion project to pipe gas through the rainforest in Brazil, and an all-out effort by Ecuador to tap as many of its 4.6 billion barrels of oil as possible.