By Bernardo Aguilar-González
The Tico Times shows us every week how Costa Rica is now far from a culturally homogenous country. The presence of a vibrant and influential English-speaking community is obvious everywhere one goes. Further, it is more common every day to find other languages such as French, Mandarin, Cantonese and others spoken throughout the nation.
As one of the oldest environmental nongovernmental organizations in the country, Fundación Neotrópica is seeking to reach out to the diverse cultural groups in Costa Rica in order to get them involved in a countrywide dialogue that is pressing today. It relates to the pertinence of the current project to give a concession to Mallon Oil Company (owned by the U.S. Black Hills Corporation from Denver, Colorado) to explore and potentially extract natural gas and oil from the subsoil of the northern region.
The National Front for the Protection of Wetlands is made up of the University of Costa Rica’s School of Biology, three environmental NGOs (Apreflofas, Pretoma and Neotrópica), Revista Poder, Rocío Carranza (a national actress and activist) and several student groups from public universities (FEUCR, FEUNA, FEITEC). As a collective, we have worked in cooperation with the national government on the environmental conflict involving the Northeastern Caribbean Wetland on the border with Nicaragua. This collaboration and dialogue was established with clear boundaries as to respect potential differences in positions regarding other environmental issues.
Today, we are seeking to maintain this dialogue in order to come to an adequate solution to this new environmental conflict. Our organizations have put out a statement (http://www.neotropica.org/leer.php/6226386) expressing our concerns regarding this process. I would like to share some of our considerations here.
We see this juncture as a combination of challenges and opportunities. The first concern that becomes clear from the information found in the media these days is the lack of clarity as to the extent of the concession and the degree of compliance with the technical and legal requirements for the project.
Furthermore, the maps published by the daily La Nación, showing the land blocks to be explored, raise questions about the opportunity and adequacy of this initiative in light of Costa Rica’s reputation as a “green” country. The blocks on these maps include areas that are in or along indigenous reservations, important protected areas, forests and wetlands.
Company representatives have assured that the gas potentially available may cover all the yearly hydrocarbon demand of the country and give us a gross income of $8.9 billion during the 20 years of the concession (including taxes and royalties). Yet no technical documents are available that back these estimates. Additionally, the potential opportunity costs of this concession have not been estimated.
There is no formal ecological economic study that evaluates the risks for the potential loss of natural capital and environmental services. These should include aspects like the value of ecosystem services produced by wetlands or other protected areas. Estimates by Neotrópica for the Northeast Caribbean Wetland (in the map of concessions) place those values in a range between $2,800 and $46,000 per hectare per year, while others estimate the value of national parks and biological reserves at $2,085 per hectare per year. This represents a contribution of about 5 percent of the gross national product for 2009. Tourism, largely successful because of Costa Rica’s green image, annually generates close to $2 billion. This represents 7 percent of the country’s GNP, 23 percent of export revenue and 13 percent of direct and indirect employment. According to studies, Costa Rica’s national parks and biological reserves generate close to $1 billion.
It is also worth noting that our country’s energy needs have not been evaluated through a national energy plan for the short, medium and long term. This plan should evaluate those needs in an integral and participative way in view of Costa Rica’s economic, social and environmental goals and the technological possibilities available.
This type of dialogue may lead us in a direction of innovative ideas that would harmonize the energy needs of the country with its green reputation. An example of similar ideas is the Yasuni-ITT Project in Ecuador, in which several donors (AVINA Foundation and the United Nations Development Program, for instance) have agreed to contribute to a fund that rewards Ecuador for not extracting hydrocarbons (therefore curtailing greenhouse gas emissions) from the subsoil of Yasuni National Park and conserving the environmental services that the park produces. Ecuador also agrees to an obligation to invest a percentage of those resources in developing renewable energy sources.
Lack of information, clarity and dialogue are the reasons our organizations oppose the oil and gas initiative in Costa Rica in its current form. We are calling for a national dialogue, which is necessary to resolve this conflict, and we call upon President Laura Chinchilla to not authorize this concession that dialogue happens. The English-speaking community has a key role to play in providing feedback. Please accept our invitation.
Bernardo Aguilar-González is executive director of Fundación Neotrópica, a Costa Rican nonprofit organization that since 1985 has worked toward developing and promoting environmental goods and services.