QUITO Oct 3 Ecuador's parliament on Thursday
authorized drilling of the nation's largest oil fields in part
of the Amazon rainforest after the failure of President Rafael
Correa's plan to have rich nations pay to avoid its
The socialist leader launched the initiative in 2007 to
protect the Yasuni jungle area, which boasts some of the
planet's most diverse wildlife, but scrapped it after attracting
only a small fraction of the $3.6 billion sought.
The government-dominated National Assembly authorized
drilling in blocks 43 and 31, but attached conditions to
minimize the impact on both the environment and local tribes.
Though Correa says the estimated $22 billion earnings
potential will be used to combat poverty in the South American
nation, there have been protests from indigenous groups and
About 680,000 people have signed a petition calling for a
"We want them to respect our territory," Alicia Cauilla, a
representative of the Waorani people who live around the Yasuni
area, said in an appeal to the assembly.
"Let us live how we want."
Correa has played down the potential impact of oil drilling
in the area, saying it would affect only 0.01 percent of the
entire Yasuni basin.
A U.S.-trained economist, Correa has won broad popular
support among Ecuador's low-income majority with heavy spending
on welfare, health, education and infrastructure projects.
He says it is essential for the country to expand its oil
reserves in order to direct more state spending toward the poor.
Oil output in OPEC's smallest member has stagnated since
2010 when the government asked oil investors to sign
less-profitable service contracts or leave the country. Since
then, oil companies have not invested in exploration.
State oil company Petroamazonas will be in charge of
extraction in blocks 43 and 31, which are estimated to hold 800
million barrels of crude and projected to yield 225,000 barrels
per day eventually. Ecuador currently produces 540,000 bpd.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ken Wills)