Carol Bennett / Amazon Watch

Nightly News   |  May 03, 2013

Oil demand threatens Ecuador's rainforest

Up to 8 million acres of pristine Ecuadorian rainforest is under threat by a new plan to drill for oil. A local tribe vows to fight to protect their land. NBC's Ann Curry reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back tonight with a battle brewing in one of the most remote and pristine places on earth -- the rain forest of ecuador and south america . for years the u.s. has been the number one importer of oil from that country. now there is a plan to extract even more of it from a vast stretch of land. as nbc's ann curry found in her travels to the region, it has caused alarm in that part of the world.

>> reporter: deep in the amazon, in the world's most biodiverse rain forest , rarely seen tribesmen are sharpening spears and preparing blow guns for what they say will be a fight to the death against ecuador 's new plan to drill for oil on up to 8 million acres of pristine rain forest . while the tribal leader sings "we are not going to lose our culture, we are going to protect our land." [ speaking in a foreign language ]

>> reporter: angry women from the tribe vow to fight alongside their men. tribal leader patricio hupa says the people cannot survive without the rain forest .

>> i am going to fight for my community.

>> reporter: as long as you are alive you will fight for your community.

>> mm-hmm.

>> reporter: you feel so strongly.

>> yes. i'm sorry.

>> reporter: past oil drilling left a toxic legacy in ecuador . boston university biologist kelly sween, a researcher here for more than 20 years. i understand more oil has been spilled here than in the exxon valdez numbers.

>> those numbers are real. we are talking about hundreds of small spills that add up to a huge amount.

>> reporter: and, he says, america, a top importer of oil from ecuador , shares responsibility for this coming conflict.

>> we are definitely guilty in this story.

>> reporter: ecuador depends on amazon oil for up to 50% of its revenue. ecuador 's vice president lennon moreno

>> translator: if ecuador were in a position to provide for the needs of its people we would be happy not to explore. however that's not the case.

>> reporter: confronted with indigenous people with spears would ecuador use force?

>> translator: according to international law if dialogue fails there is a process of escalation of the use of force .

>> reporter: in the battle of blow guns against bulldozers, the tribes know they are outmatched, but are still preparing to make a last stand to save the rain forest and their endangered people. ann curry , nbc news, ecuador .

>> we'll have more on this story, the battle for the rain forest tonight on "rock center" at 10:00 /9:00 central this evening.