Look around. It's likely that much of what you see originated somewhere far way. Electronics from China, clothing from South Asia, cheese from Europe.
A new report details a growing source of one the most pervasive elements in modern society: oil.
The analysis, done by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit working to protect the rainforest, is the first to document the extent to which Amazon rainforest crude oil is present in the United States. Not only does this oil contribute to local air pollution and global climate change, but the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in the Amazon Basin threatens some of the world's most pristine and biodiverse regions.
According to the report, From Well to Wheel: The Social, Environmental, and Climate Costs of Amazon Crude, oil extraction in the Amazon could increase by more than 5x in the near future. While right now oil is only being extracted on 7% of the existing and proposed oil and gas blocks in the Amazon (which cover an area larger than Texas), national governments aim to extract an additional 40%. This would lead to great swaths of deforestation on well sites, along pipeline routes, for new roads, and anywhere else that gets in the way of the oil production companies.
The United States, and especially California, are major culprits in this expansion. California refineries process over seven million gallons of Amazon crude every day, roughly 60% of all exports of Amazon crude originating in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. According to Amazon Watch, which hopes to help drastically curtail U.S. imports of Amazon crude, only 23 of 117 refineries in the United States processed the South American oil last year, meaning it wold be "relatively simple to shift to Amazon-free operations."
The Chevron facility in El Segundo, CA, accounts for 24% of the U.S. total alone.
In 2015, over 20% of all of California's oil imports came from Ecuador, making it the second largest supplier to the state behind Saudi Arabia. All of Ecuador's oil originates in the Amazon.
"Californians are therefore either part of the problem or part of the solution, as key stakeholders in the future health of the Amazon’s forests and peoples, as well as the global climate," states the report.
Adam Zuckerman, a California-based campaigner for Amazon Watch, told The Guardian that “virtually every company, city and university in California and around the country contributes to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.”
He also said Amazon Watch wants California to consider human rights issues when it imports oil.
California has established itself as one of the most progressive governments when it comes to climate change, having passed an impressive number of climate mitigation and adaptation measures, not least of all this year. Governor Jerry Brown has made fighting climate change an important part of his legacy, within the state and at a global level. The state's carbon scheme, fuel standards, clean energy initiatives, environmental justice efforts, and water saving measures are leading policies in a field better known for laggards. Being a major importer of Amazon crude oil is not something the environmental community wants to have prominently displayed on the list of accomplishments.
In fact, part of the reason California doesn't import more polluting forms of oil from places like Canada's tar sands is because clean energy policies discriminate against it. This makes the Amazon oil all the more appealing.
It will probably surprise many people used to hearing about the domestic oil boom, brought about by new technologies in the industry, that imports of oil from the Amazon have actually risen in recent years. The report states this is because increased domestic production from shale formations that produce light crude requires heavier crudes like those found in the Amazon to create a blend for refineries.
In California, the reasons for using Amazon crude get even more technical. According to the report, every large public and private truck fleet in the state (and many in other states) uses diesel that is at least partly derived from Amazon oil. This is because the companies that take gas and diesel fuel from refineries to end users (i.e. third-party fuel carriers) do not have long-term contracts with refiners, and thus adjust their fuel sourcing based on even that smallest fluctuation in price.
Again, this ease of switching over is a double-edged sword.
"That means that over the course of a year every fleet uses gasoline derived from the Amazon, but it also means that it is relatively simple for them to shift to Amazon-free refineries," states the report. "Twenty-one major companies and two cities have committed to eliminating or lessening their dependence on tar sands, so they and others can take action on Amazon crude."
Amazon Watch wants to make rainforest oil the new tar sands.