The manager of state oil company Petroamazonas has defended Ecuador's plans to expand exploitation of major oil reserves in one of the world's most species-diverse rainforests. As Kate King reports, the OPEC country is seeking resources to revitalize an ailing economy, after a fall in oil prices and a major earthquake.
This is Yasuni Park, Ecuador. Home to one of the most species-diverse rain forests in the world. But now it has another occupant - the country's state oil company Petroamazonas. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) STATE OIL COMPANY MANAGER, ALEX GALARRAGA, SAYING: "This is the second phase of oil exploitation in Ecuador. These fields are new, and have very noble deposits that allow for very cheap exploitation, which will make it economically profitable." Ecuador is looking to revive its ailing economy following a fall in oil prices - and a major earthquake. The oil fields here, are expected to raise annual revenues of around 2.4 billion dollars each year, from when the development is completed in 2022. Before then it's installing some 26 platforms to drill 651 wells. Unsurprisingly environmentalists are outraged - and are calling for the project to be suspended. But the government says they needn't worry. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ECUADOR'S MINISTER OF HYDROCARBONS, CARLOS PEREZ, SAYING: "We have taken care to comply with and assist the environmental conservation and peoples' biodiversity in this part of the country, without impacting production." The area has long been subject to environmental debate. A decade ago Ecuador's former President asked wealthy countries to donate $3.6 billion to offset revenue lost by not drilling there. Less than 4 percent was given - so the plan was scrapped. And now here we are, a country weighing up the cost of damages to its biodiversity, compared to the profit from the riches beneath it.