E-Tech was incorporated in late 2003 to provide high quality, in-depth environmental technical support to largely indigenous communities in developing countries facing existing or potential large-scale industrial projects. From the beginning, our vision has been to provide technical consulting support and capacity-building to “clients” that explicitly request our assistance when the relationship and the work can be clearly, openly, and transparently. In some cases the clients come with their own funding, but more often than not we seek separate funding to make the projects viable.
The key elements of our decision framework for accepting projects, aside from financial, are (1) the need for our analysis of technical environmental issues, (2) the mutual level of trust and confidence with our clients, and (3) the potential that our work will have a substantial positive effect on the health (writ large) of the community, the environment, and local or regional policy decisions. In short, we have no desire to write a white paper when the need for technical environmental evaluation of industrial development is large; we are small, and we want to have a measurable and long-lasting impact. We believe that the right to protect natural resources and the environment is a human right.
As a US-based NGO, we feel it is critical to have well-respected, in-country representation for each project. We have an E-Tech representative in Ecuador (and one who will also work in Peru), numerous collaborators in Peru, and have key staff in Mexico and Canada. One issue not anticipated when E-Tech incorporated was the integral role that we would play in linking indigenous human rights, such as prior informed consent and consultation, to the technical environmental tools needed to fortify those rights. As technical professionals seeking to impact development, we rarely flatly oppose development projects. We offer our technical independent assistance to
help ensure protection of the environment and human health, and we may propose project and engineering alternatives including the no-action alternative that would be integral to a U.S. Environmental Impact Statement.
In order to begin a new non-profit with extremely limited funding, the original staff felt that they should maintain “day-jobs” to allow rapid response with little infrastructure. Existing staff use their own office space. Chief Scientist Dr. Ann Maest (geochemist & US EPA’s top consultant on mining and water quality evaluations with decades of work in Latin America), Chief Engineer Bill Powers, PE (author of 2012 San Francisco and San Diego alternative energy plans; 30-plus years of experience working internationally on utility and hydrocarbon environmental issues), and Director Dick Kamp ( ex-director Border Ecology Project; recipient of the UNEP children’s prize for protection of world environment and Purpose Fellow) accepted Oxfam grants to work in Peru on the Camisea natural gas project within weeks of incorporation. Projects expanded to Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Surinam, and Nigeria. Program Coordinator Laura Silvan oversees environmental education for the state of Baja California and works from Playas de Tijuana where she founded Proyecto Fronteriza de Educacion Ambiental in 1989 and remains co-director. Canadian-Salvadoran Andean project engineer Ricardo Segovia is stationed in Ecuador, working also in Peru, coordinating resource extraction projects for the near future.
The 2013 E-Tech consists of seven core professional staff working from five countries (US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador) and skilled technical consultants (an environmental geologist, groundwater hydrogeologist, mining engineer). In 2012, renowned National Geographic photographer, Beth Wald, became outreach director. Our medium-term vision includes securing a funding base to support current staff, adding a biodiversity consultant, and paying field expenses while maintaining a realistically minimal infrastructure.
E-Tech’s work in Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico/Central America provides glimpses into how our involvement expands within a country over time, the broad types of clients we serve, and the models we use to ensure a lasting positive impact in a country. Many issues are intrinsically cross-border in nature.
In Ecuador, where E-Tech conducted technical analyses for the controversial Chevron-Texaco oil contamination case in the Oriente region, we have turned our attention to evaluating proposed large-scale fast-tracked metal mining projects in the highly biodiverse Cordillera del Condor region near the Peruvian border. These copper and gold projects potentially endanger important Amazonian headwaters. Much of our work has focused on preventing water quality impacts from the highly controversial Chinese-owned Mirador open-pit copper project that President Correa is promoting. We have been conducting Spanish-language analyses, with independent funding, for three diverse entities. Our initial client was the elected governor/prefect of the province of Zamora Chinchipe; we quickly received a request from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) for technical assistance, and later from Shuar and Saraguro federations. Working with such diverse entities has complicated our work, but our commitment to transparency and high quality technical evaluations helps smooth the path. At the request of several indigenous federations and confederations and the province of Zamora Chinchipe, E-Tech is developing audio-visual tools that will allow all stakeholders to understand large-scale mining environmental impacts and will bring the concerns of local communities to the national and international stage. Such tools help visualize the complex environmental risks and potential effects on and concerns of specific indigenous communities. We are investigating how to establish independent long-term mining water monitoring.
In Peru, E-Tech has formal relationships with national governmental agencies, regional (state-equivalent) governments such as Cusco and Loretto, and dozens of indigenous, professional, academic, and civil society groups. We first audited the Camisea natural gas/natural gas liquids pipeline and accurately predicted future pipeline breaks. A later request was to provide technical assistance to the Achuar people in the Rio Corrientes- Pastaza-Maranon-Tigre region in northern Peru, who prevented Pluspetrol access to their land to extract oil until past Occidental and Pluspetrol pollution was remediated. E-Tech’s Bill Powers developed and oversaw a cleanup plan that helped prevent violence. Achuar collaborators identified sites most affected by past oil pollution, and they continue to document spills. Under an indigenous-Loreto-national government accord requiring effective remediation prior to any future sale of Corrientes Blocks, E-Tech is beginning the first phase of a comprehensive environmental evaluation and monitoring of the oil concessions Spring, 2013.
From 2009 to 2012, E-Tech partnered with the Department of Cusco and held annual fora with diverse Peruvian participants to discuss monitoring and best practices for hydrocarbon projects. The fora emphasized the environmental elements of indigenous prior informed consent and consultations to avoid future violence such as the Bagra massacre. At the request of fora participants, Powers completed a Spanish-language manual for best practices for oil and gas development in tropical rainforests. E-Tech’s former consulting representative, Alberto Barandarian, is currently an attorney for the Ministry of the Environment and oversees policy in several geographic areas, including within the Region of Loreto. We will be establishing a Peruvian-staffed project that will track and respond to all stages of hydrocarbon development, continue collaboration with regional governments in workshops, monitoring and remediation, and expand capacity building programs at all levels.
Mexico/Central America: Work continues on our geochemical and hydrogeologic evaluation of the Marlin Mine in Guatemala, we are in discussions about potential work on alternative energy and shale gas production in Mexico and evaluation of a large copper-gold mine in Panama.
E-Tech recognizes that a scarcity of funding often means strategizing to help others achieve environmental goals. To this end, we have secured funding for in-country groups, worked as a consultant for other NGOs or regional government agencies, and sought E-Tech grants for these purposes.
E-Tech is pleased that our model of using technical assistance to achieve environmental protection and avoid violence has begun to show signs of success. We feel we have accomplished this through mutual respect with our highly diverse collaborators and by providing impartial, honest, and open scientific and engineering assistance that can be used directly in forward-looking policy decisions, particularly to protect indigenous people.