updated 10/22/2007 4:36:21 PM ET 2007-10-22T20:36:21

Plans to search for oil and natural gas in Brazil's remote western Amazon have raised concerns that one of the last untouched areas of the world's largest wilderness will be spoiled.

The National Petroleum Agency, or ANP, plans to invest $36 million to look for oil and gas in Acre, an Amazon state bordering Bolivia, the government news agency Agencia Brasil said Saturday.

ANP director Getulio Silveira Leite told a congressional committee that the work in Acre is part a broader push to find oil in the Amazon, according to Agencia Brasil.

"We must increase research in the region to discover the petroleum potential of the nine Amazon states," Silveira Leite said.

But environmental officials said no study had been done to assess how the search will affect the Amazon. The region covers some 1.6 million square miles but its natural resources are under constant pressure loggers, miners and farmers.

"It's necessary to examine how this will be done, on what scale and in what areas," said Joao Paulo Capobianco, the Environment Ministry's executive secretary. "In theory, there are methodologies and technologies that allow this activity without environmental damage."

The Acre state Federation of Industries has endorsed the project, but some in the region question whether the government will take care to preserve the environment.

"Development brings damage," Acre congressman Marcelo Serafim said. "It destroyed the Atlantic forest, it ruined much of the Pantanal (wetlands), and that's not what we want or defend."

But Serafim added: "If the Brazilian government and the world want the Amazon preserved, the world has to give us conditions to preserve the Amazon. And it hasn't."

The government-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA now produces oil and gas in the Amazon city of Coari. The federal government is also building a pipeline through the rainforest to carry the gas to the Amazonas state capital of Manaus, a city of 1.5 million.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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