forests and waters threatened by hydrocarbon exploration work in the Tariquía National Reserve

  • The work that began in a sector of the reserve with the construction of paths in the middle of the forest.
  • Studies based on satellite images indicate that 95% of the protected area remains in good condition so far.

“We don’t know how we’re going to keep them out. And you know the government has so much power, they don’t pay attention to social organizations, they don’t respect grassroots decisions. Nothing”, says Paola Gareca, executive of the sub-central of Tariquía, about the open roads in the National Reserve of Flora and Fauna of Tariquía, in the south of Bolivia, on the border with Argentina.

The works to which Gareca refers began a few months ago and are related to the project for the exploration and exploitation of gas in the reserve. The demands of the communities living in the reserve have prevented its realization for at least seven years.

The population of the reserve opposes the hydrocarbon project. Photo: Stefan Cramer.

There are three established areas within the Tariquía reserve that would be dedicated to the hydrocarbon project: Astillero, Churumas and San Telmo to the north and south.

Jorge Campanini, researcher at the Bolivian Center for Documentary Information (Cedib), points out that exploration work has already begun in the Astillero area. “It’s a very difficult area to access, where there aren’t many communities and the connection is very limited, so they entered through there.”

For the Churumas and San Telmo sector, the Cedib investigator indicates that they are in the process of updating their environmental licenses so that exploration work can begin.

The National Flora and Fauna Reserve of Tariquía extends over 246,870 hectares of forest in the department of Tarija and the area compromised by the hydrocarbon blocks is 128,083 hectares, according to information from Cedib.

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Environmental risks in Tariquía

“If the company continues to operate, it will no longer be a reserve. The first thing that will start is contamination and then it will be the loss of water,” says leader Gareca of the environmental damage threatening the protected natural area.

The hydrocarbon exploration project started in the shipyard sector. Photo: Stefan Cramer.

Photographs and videos taken in recent months show the entry of heavy machinery into the Tariquía National Flora and Fauna Reserve. The footage shows large mountains of dirt being removed amidst the forest and paths formed in areas where there were trees before.

German scientist Stefan Cramer, geologist of the Senior Experten Service organization and specialized in groundwater, points out that there are several risks associated with the entry of hydrocarbon companies into the Tariquía reserve.

Cramer explains that in addition to the direct impacts on the sector where the gas wells are installed, one must also take into account the indirect impacts, which “are numerous and much more important”. Y menciona los problems que ocasionan la construcción de caminos y carreteras en medio del bosque, “un daño medioambiental muy important porque son carreteras de diez metros de ancho, pero están en terrenos con mucha pendiente, por tanto, ocupan un espacio casi diez veces más big. In addition, they are found in high-quality forest areas, in the central zone of the reserve.

When the roads are open – continues Cramer – the migrants arrive to establish colonies, to extract wood or to exploit mines; that is to say, the paths open access to practically impenetrable areas of the forest. “These roads that open promote other economic developments and especially deforestation. Currently, the reserve is still almost intact. satellite images they show that 95% of this protected area is still healthy forest”, explains the expert.

The Tariquía Reserve is characterized by its enormous biodiversity. Photo by National Protected Areas Service

His statements are based on a study carried out by Cramer himself and researchers from the Autonomous University Juan Misael Saracho (UAJMS) – where the German geologist is a professor -, research based on satellite images of the Tariquía reserve from the last 20 years . .

“We calculated that more or less than 5% of the reserve is already deforested, it’s been going faster and faster in recent years,” Cramer says of the review of Landsat and Sentinel satellite imagery he conducted for his study.

The German scientist is also concerned about the impact of this project on the role of the reserve in the region. “The reserve works like a water pump,” he explains and warns that it could be lost. Cramer mentions that the infiltration of rain into the aquifers of the central valley of Tarija – where Tariquía is located – supplies water to a million people outside the protected area, as well as agricultural fields in the region. “This function outside the reserve is very important for Bolivia and must be taken into account in all environmental impact studies”, he specifies.

The map shows the changes made to the management plan of the Tariquía National Fauna and Flora Reserve. Source: CEDIB.

Mongabay Latam The YPFB company, responsible for the gas exploration of the Astillero and Churumas wells, was contacted by telephone to inquire about the environmental impacts caused by the works in progress in the Tariquía reserve. Until the closing of this edition, the interview was not finalized.

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Open the door to extractive use

In early 2022, the Bolivian government announced that the Tariquía project would be reactivated. In April, people opposed to the hydrocarbon project staged marches and issued statements in support of the protected area. After the start of the works, between May and June, the communities of Tariquía requested the National Service of Protected Areas (Sernap) to cancel and audit the management plan approved in 2014 by which the zoning of the protected area was been modified.

Around this time, in 2014, the government of then President Evo Morales made changes to the management plans of three protected areas: Carrasco National Park, Tunari National Park and the National Reserve of Flora and Fauna of Tariquía.

In the latter, the new management plan approved at that time meant reducing the protection area of ​​the basin by 33% and increasing the area of ​​use of natural resources (intensive extractive use). at 45%, indicates an analysis prepared by Cedib on the modifications.

According to scientist Stefan Cramer, the opening of roads in sloping areas means a greater impact. Photo: Stefan Cramer.

Before this modification — it is mentioned in the Cebid document — the two zones were separated and the intense extractive use was differentiated from the consumption use. However, the new plan has converted these two zones into one for extensive extractive and consumptive use, which expands the area of ​​intensive extractive use to that of consumptive use and reduces the protection.

Pablo Villegas, a Cedib researcher and editor of the publication, points out that dwindling gas reserves in Bolivia have led the government to seek out all possible locations for gas exploration, a move that included protected areas. “The management plan has been changed so that not only the hydrocarbon sector but other sectors come in.”

Jorge Campanini, also a researcher at Cedib, adds that the modifications to the management plan were made without consulting the people who live in the reserve. “What this management plan does is basically set the stage for projects to happen. The central area has been modified to allow the entry of projects. This is the situation, a project that is moving forward and is within Tariquia, but which was imposed by force.

Franklin Flores, director of the Tariquía National Flora and Fauna Reserve, points out that this hydrocarbon project “is part of the economic reactivation of Bolivia” after the Cobid19 pandemic affected the economy of the country. country.

The Tariquía reserve works like a water pump, says scientist Stefan Cramer. Photo: Stefan Cramer.

Flores also mentions the supreme decree approved in 2015 which allows the development of hydrocarbon exploration activities in the different zones and categories of protected areas, as well as the rule for modifying the management plan. “I have to follow the rules. There is a decree by which it is permitted to carry out this type of exploration and exploitation of these natural resources in protected areas. In addition, the management plan contains a resolution that I must comply with.
The director of the Tariquía National Reserve adds that as the institution in charge of the conservation of this protected area, it must ensure compliance with environmental standards. “The institution [Sernap] It has an environmental watch unit which constantly carries out control actions. In this case, inspections are carried out to verify that the project complies with the environmental standards for the preservation of the protected area.

Leader Paola Gareca says they will continue to demand that this project be permanently suspended. “Our proposal is that they respect us as members of the community of the reserve and that the places that have been defined to protect them are maintained, because it is very important not only for Tariquía, but for the whole department of Tariya.”

* Main picture: Road opening works in the Tariquía National Flora and Fauna Reserve. Photo: Stephane Cramer.


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