Country needs more pragmatic approach to natural resources

Environmental concerns in Costa Rica seem to have triumphed over common sense.

Trees are sacred, mining gold is a no-no and the president says natural gas is OK but crude oil is not.

When Nicaraguan troops invaded a small piece of Costa Rica along the Río San Juan in October, the country chose to play the environmental card in its protest to the International Court of Justice. The Nicaraguans had ravaged a part of Costa Rica where nearly no one ever goes and cut down trees that no one really cared about.

Never mind that the invasion was a blatant attack on national sovereignty. Costa Rica went to bat for the trees.

Trees grow from little saplings, mature, die and then fall down. That is if no one uses the lumber. Trees are supposed to capture and sequester carbon. But when they die and rot, they give it off.

Trees also figured in a continuing protest over the Las Crucitas open pit gold mine north of San Carlos. The almendro amarillo trees were home for endangered great green macaws, known in Spanish as lapa verde. The situation is not as if Industrias Infinito S.A. was going to cut down all the trees. There are only about 200 great green macaws in Costa Rica and plenty of trees to go around even if some are cut to provide a space to mine gold.

Costa Rica is desperate for money. Residents of the northern zone are desperate for jobs. It seems silly not to take advantage of the government’s share of the extracted gold and create jobs. Some 150 workers were laid off when the Canadian-owned mining firm suffered a setback in a lower court that overstepped its responsibilities.

Meanwhile Costa Rica is out begging for foreign aid and takings on enormous loans, not to mention trying to create unjustified new taxes.

Now comes a U.S. firm that has been fighting environmentalists in court since 2000. The company wants to do exploratory drilling in several locations in the northern zone for petroleum and natural gas. The company won approval 11 years ago but has been tied up in the black hole of the Costa Rican judicial system until recently. Now comes the time to actually look for petroleum and gas.

But wait. President Laura Chinchilla says that natural gas is alright but the petroleum should stay in the ground.
This from the president of a country that imports all of its petroleum. She also spoke of a joint venture between government agencies like Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A. and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. In other words, let the U.S. company, Mallon Oil Co., provide all the expertise, take all the risks and make all the decisions and then bureaucrats will move in and take a chunk of the profits.
Instead, the Costa Rican agencies should get their own shovels or whatever other devices they choose to use and find their own oil patches and start digging.

There are plenty of oil and gas wells producing needed energy in many beautiful parts of the United States and Canada, and they are not eyesores. The world needs the energy, and alternate sources are still far behind in providing the amount of energy that is needed.

Environmentalists were a prime reason Harken Oil was forced out of its exploratory drilling plans offshore in the Caribbean. Now instead of producing its own petroleum, Costa Rica is an importer. And Harken probably will be a big winner in international arbitration.

At the legislature some lawmakers want to ban drilling for energy in Costa Rica. Maybe they should start by surrendering their government-provided gas hogs and walk to work.

Environmentalists will be gathering Saturday at Plaza de la Cultura to protest petroleum drilling. They ought to walk, too, and thank that guy in Africa who had to go down a dangerous two miles into the earth to get the gold they wear for earrings.

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