Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

May 6, 2009
Amazon crude - California's thirst for Ecuador's oil
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a fascinating piece about oil development in Ecuador's  Amazon - and in particular, about a lawsuit between indigenous residents there and California-based Chevron. The stakes are high. If a judge rules against Chevron, it could face billions in damages related to historic oil pollution in the region. It could even be the most costly environmental judgment in history.
60 Minutes pointed out that much of Ecuador's oil flows to the United States but it didn't say where in the U.S. The answer is eco-friendly California - a state that jealously guards its own coastline from oil development. 
When I last reported on this issue from Ecuador in 2003, 39 million barrels of Ecuadorian oil flowed to California. Last year - despite efforts to reduce oil consumption here and shrink our carbon footprint - imports of Ecuadorian oil to California climbed to 62.5 million barrels  - up more than 60 percent. 
To many environmentalists and politicians, oil development along the coast is a simple "not in my backyard" issue. But when we continue to consume petroleum in massive quantities from afar, we simply deflect the environmental impacts elsewhere - to places out of sight and out of mind - and often, places with less rigorous anti-pollution laws than our own.
That hardly seems environmentally responsible.

 
 
 

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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at tknudson@sacbee.com.

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