New President of Costa Rica Pledges to Protect Coastal Ecosystems from Oil Drilling

Nation praised for leadership in environmental consciousness


Anna Cederstav, Staff Scientist, Earthjustice and AIDA (USA) +1-510-550-6748


Rolando Castro Cordoba, CEDARENA Costa Rica, +506-283-7080

AIDA (the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense) and Earthjustice congratulate the government of Costa Rica on its decision to oppose offshore oil-drilling and promote environmental protection along the biologically diverse coastal ecosystems of the Caribbean region of the country. Natural resources, including coral reefs, tropical rainforest, sea turtle nesting beaches, mangroves, and wetlands, were in serious danger of being forever altered by offshore drilling. By definitively rejecting an appeal by a US Consortium that promoted petroleum exploration in the region, the Costa Rican government last week took an exemplary stance in support of sustainable development and environmental protection in the hemisphere.

On May 8, 2002, the newly elected president of Costa Rica, Dr. Abel Pacheco de la Espriella specifically addressed oil exploration in his inaugural speech, stating that Costa Rica should become “an ecological leader, not an oil enclave”, and that “the true oil and gold for Costa Rica are water and oxygen produced by our forests.” Two days before this, the Ministry of Environment formally upheld an earlier decision by the National Technical Environmental Secretariat (SETENA) to reject a proposal for exploratory drilling.

According to Anna Cederstav, staff scientist with AIDA and Earthjustice, “The rejection by the Costa Rican government of the plans for coastal oil-drilling is a wonderful precedent, established because of much hard work by many organizations, the affected community, and a number of extremely dedicated individuals. This means that a significant stretch of very beautiful and biodiverse Caribbean coastline — a piece of tropical paradise — will be safe for some time to come.”

In Costa Rica, Texas-based Harken Energy and Louisiana-based MKJ Xplorations wanted to explore for oil just off the coast of Limon. The region that was slated for petroleum development constitutes part of the Meso-American Biological corridor, and is home to rare and fascinating species such as the tucuxi fresh-water dolphin, marine turtles, and manatees. Indigenous communities have fished and farmed here for centuries, and the mainstays of today’s economy are eco-tourism and subsistence fishing. AIDA brought the proposed development to the attention of the international Secretariat of the RAMSAR Convention (an international wetlands conservation treaty) because of the threat posed to three Caribbean wetlands recognized under the Convention as being of international importance and thus deserving special protection.

Last February, after 18 months of review, public commentary, and extensive technical research, SETENA unanimously rejected the US consortium’s plans for exploration. In so doing, the agency listed some of the many flaws in the oil consortium’s environmental impact assessment, and cited national and international laws that obligate Costa Rica to comply with high environmental standards. SETENA and the Environment Ministry should be commended for taking a strong stance to respect and enforce national and international laws for environmental protection.

Fernando Dougnac, a Chilean member of AIDA’s Board of Directors, said, “I am highly impressed by both the rejection of the appeal and the statements made by the President-elect of Costa Rica. Costa Rica has shown here that it is truly a pioneer in environmental consciousness.”

For background information, please see AIDA’s website at:

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