Plans to build a $400 million heavy-crude oil pipeline through a sensitive area of virgin forest in Ecuador have alerted conservationists to a potential ecological disaster.
Analysts say the pipeline is needed because Ecuador's main export line, the trans-
Ecuadorean oil pipeline system, is on the verge of collapse. Oil is Ecuador's biggest export after bananas, but the industry has a poor record of spills and other mishaps.
The new route over the west slope of the Andes was originally intended to run alongside an older pipeline, but it was changed to another route for logistical reasons after environmental-impact studies were conducted. The route was approved on the presumption that the pipeline would be well away from one of the richest cloud forests in Ecuador.
But contractors say that the soils are poor along that chosen route, and they are planning to change the course. Topographers have already invaded private land to cut lines through forest, reportedly without asking permission.
British ornithologist Paul Greenfield said: "This will obviously be a disaster. The pipeline will impact the Mindo-Nambillo protected forest, which has been declared the first Important Bird Area in South America by Birdlife International. The area holds more than 50 range-restricted and endangered species.
"The pipeline will go right through nesting sites of tanager-finch and moustached antpitta, and an oil spill would be disastrous for the whole area, the watershed and pristine forest leading to Mindo."
Robin Brace, lecturer in zoology at the University of Nottingham and a specialist in neotropical rainforest bird communities, agreed: "It is a very important area and an important focus as the first IBA declared in South America. It is important in terms of what is there ornithologically, and also as a focus for avian conservation and eco-tourism, as it is so close to Quito."
Dr Brace added: "Any damage to the area would be terrible. As soon as you start messing around with areas like this, the damage is done. It is not just the primary but the secondary effects of development."
GRAPHIC ECUADAOR'S OIL PIPEPLINE CONTROVERSY