World Rainforest Movement

Argentina: Oil companies try to “green” their image

Following an existing trend at the global level, oil companies in Argentina have enthusiastically embraced the idea of entering the carbon permits market, as an effective way to increase their profits and revamp their image to the eyes of public opinion: from the bad guys responsible for global warming to champions of forest conservation! Since 1998, the government has been making things easier for them by favouring investments in plantation projects, disregarding their impacts on the valuable grassland ecosystems that have been the natural and physical support of the country’s economy (see WRM Bulletin 17).

According to Patricio Montecino, general manager of Pecom Forestal (a subsidiary of oil company Pérez Companc), “nowadays it is difficult to think of an oil company without an additional forestry component” both because -according to him- forestry is a good business, and because such companies are now conscious of the need to work on solutions based on carbon sequestration. Pecom is negotiating carbon emissions permits with the German companies that are involved in the polemic Chubut-Prima Klima agreement to sequester carbon in southern Chubut Province (see WRM Bulletin 17).

For Pérez Companc Company, carbon sinks are nowadays a core business. The company started to work in the forestry sector in the 1950s and at present owns 163,000 hectares of land in the provinces of Misiones and Corrientes and in the Paraná Delta region, much of which will be planted with trees. 15,000 additional hectares of pine plantations are to be set up in the next seven years in Misiones. The company’s holdings in Corrientes are being planted to Pinus taeda and Pinus elliottii at a rate of 6,000 hectares per year, with the aim of obtaining raw material to feed an industry to be installed in the area in the near future.

Giant oil producer YPF (formerly State owned, now privatized and associated with Repsol of Spain) is supervising the plantation of 2,000 hectares with Pinus ponderosa in southern Neuquén Province by the Corporación Forestal Neuquina (CORFONE) and planning to reach 5,000 hectares by the year 2002. Of course Shell cannot be absent in this kind of initiatives: It owns 200,000 hectares in several countries (Congo, New Zealand, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay), being 120,000 hectares occupied by fast-growing trees plantations. In Argentina, Shell began to operate in 1998 and its plantations are located in Buenos Aires Province, where it owns 24,200 hectares, and in Corrientes Province, occupying an area of 8,000 hectares with eucalyptus and pines, to be extended to 18,000 hectares.

To create a “green image” for themselves is a very important goal of these companies’ policy. Repsol-YPF boasts that its project is taking place in areas affected by erosion produced by overgrazing, and that they are not occupied by native forests, thus pretending to show its concern for environmental protection, in general, and for the reclamation of degradaded soils in particular. Shell emphasises that 2,000 hectares of native forests in its afforestation area will be left intact, and that the company aims to obtain certification according to the ISO 14001 norm so that the product can reach Northern markets. Nevertheless, such arguments are weak regarding a true conservation policy, since on the one hand it is well known that tree monocultures do not contribute to soil reclamation, and on the other hand, the effectiveness of small patches of native forest to conserve biodiversity in the midst of vast tree monocultures is very doubtful. Not to mention the poor performance of these companies (see article on Bolivia in this issue, and WRM Bulletins 1, 8 and 21) regarding environmental protection. Not to mention that the real business of these companies -oil extraction- is devastating both the local and global environment. And not to mention that while “greening” their image they are increasingly appropriating vast areas of land throughout the world.

Article based on information from: Federico Parapar, Ecología y Negocios, sent by Miguel Rentería, 30/5/2000;