Sunday, April 29, 2007

Structure and Function

The oil fields are named Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha. I became interested in learning more about them after reading an article in Responsible Nanotechnology about "green" nanotechnology. One quote in particular caught my attention: "When most structure and function can be built out of carbon and hydrogen by molecular manufacturing, there will be far less use for minerals, and mining operations mostly can be shut down." Really?

We undoubtedly will hear much more about nanotechnology in the near future, which is essentially the ability to manipulate and manufacture all sorts of things between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers wide.

The oil fields known as Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha are in Ecuador, a country where I lived for a year some 30 years ago. These particular fields are located in the center of Yasuni National Park, which covers some 1.7 million acres. The petroleum experts say approximately one-quarter of the country's known oil reserves are in this particular location.

Ecuador was poor when I lived there thirty years ago. It still is. Some 40% of the federal budget comes from oil revenue. The country as well has about 15 billion dollars of external debt, meaning it owes the international lenders a lot of money. It appears only logical that the oil fields at ITT need to be exploited ... yet.

Yasuni National Park may be the most biodiverse forest on Earth according to some biologists. (See Yasuni Rainforest Campaign .) ITT is also home to many indigenous people, who are dependent on a healthy rainforest for their survival. Finally, according to the University of Maryland's Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology program, Yasuni National Park could sequester possibly a half-billion tons of CO2--which could be increasingly important to all of us.

There is, however, another twist to this story. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has stated that he will seriously consider not developing this oil field, even though his country is poor and most certainly can use the oil income.

Correa will postpone oil development for at least another year if the international community makes a commitment to compensate Ecuador for approximately half of the projected lost revenue, estimated to be more than $300 million per year. The Ecuadorian president has acknowledged the environmental significance of Yasuni, but is also asking the wealthy countries to now acknowledge--in concrete terms--what Ecuador will have to give up. What if anything will the international community (including China) propose? (According to Information Clearing House the U.S. has alone spent to date more than $400 billion for the Iraq war.)

It's quite possible that nanotechnology will ultimately create a seismic shift on our planet. We may develop commercial carbon sequestration sooner than we think. For that matter, hydrogen fuel could be a reality in less than 30 or 40 years....

But what are we all willing to do right now regarding a place called Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha?

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