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As more firms look to drill in the Amazon, observers say one project properly balances the needs of the people and the environment. July 23, Deep in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, buses whisk men in orange work suits off to help lay down a pipeline that is today one of the region's most remote energy infrastructure projects.
But after years of opposition, a plan to transport gas miles from its source at a clearing called Urucu, passing 80 species of rare orchids on its way to the Amazonas state capital of Manaus, has been met with reserved praise, even from hard-core activists.
The project by the Brazilian state-controlled company Petrobras is emerging as a model for reducing environmental and social impact, say many observers. And it comes as dozens of other oil companies are looking to explore an expanse that, while among the world's most biologically diverse, also happens to be the largest unexplored region with hydrocarbon potential after Antarctica. But Urucu is situated more than 1, miles to the east … and everything in between must now be considered to have hydrocarbon production potential," says Tim Killeen a senior researcher at Conservation International.
Here in Manacapuru, 50 miles west of Manaus, small fishing boats ply the Solimoes River. Young men blare calypso music as an afternoon fades, old men play dominoes along the riverwalk. For them, the pipeline, which will pass near the town to eventually provide electricity to the 1. For residents of Manacapuru, where simple homes are built on stilts and 75 percent of residents drink untreated water, the pipeline's greatest benefit has been the 4, local jobs created.
Petrobras agreed to hire three-quarters of its workforce from the local community. But during the construction of megaprojects, often the immediate benefits give way to long-term damage. One of the biggest threats when such pipelines are built is the permanent access roads that parallel them: Roads not only contribute to deforestation but lead to population influxes that strain social services.