Oil exports from the Amazon are being driven by demand from refineries in California, researchers have found, as the Ecuadorian rainforest overtakes Saudi Arabia as the state’s largest supplier of foreign crude. 

Research published by Stand.earth and Amazon Watch finds that half of all crude oil exported from Amazon regions ends up at refineries in California. The vast majority – an estimated 89% – comes from Ecuador, with the rest produced in Peru and Colombia. 

California’s Amazon oil imports are greater than the three next-largest buyers – Panama, Chile and China – combined, it says. 

“Despite its progressive image and leaders, this research shows California consumes more oil from the Amazon than any other region in the world,” the two campaign groups say in a report published last week. 

Todd Paglia, Stand.earth’s executive director, adds: “There’s an alarming gap between what wealthy nations are saying and what they are doing. 

“They seem to be quite content to make pledges and promises with one hand, while expanding and subsidising fossil fuel production to the tune of billions on the other.” 

Historically, Saudi Arabia has been the main seller of foreign crude to Californian importers. However, a 40% reduction in imports from the country last year has meant Ecuador – which only experienced an 11% reduction – is now the state’s largest oil supplier. 

The two campaign groups express concern that continuing strong demand for Ecuadorian oil is incentivising the country to expand production further, with President Guillermo Lasso issuing an executive decree in August that aims to double its output. 

The report says that as a result, around 3 million hectares of “mostly intact rainforest” in “ecologically fragile and culturally sensitive areas” would be auctioned during 2022 to achieve this goal. 

Amazon oil drilling is “linked to the violation of indigenous rights, deforestation, biodiversity loss, pollution, increased fires in the Amazon from road building and also contributes to climate change”, it adds. 

An expansion in production would go against calls by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), which called in May for an immediate halt to investment in new fossil fuel supply projects. 

The IEA issued a stark warning over existing climate pledges by governments, saying that even if fully realised, those plans “would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050”. 

Stand.earth and Amazon Watch point out that California was among the nations or sub-nations that joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance at Cop26 in Glasgow, which committed to end the expansion of oil and gas production. 

But Californian refineries – the largest of which are operated by belong to Marathon, Chevron, and Valero – are together responsible for processing two-thirds of the Amazon crude oil imported by the US, it says. 

“If California committed to a 6% annual ramp down of refinery crude inputs, it could be entirely off of Amazon oil in two years,” it says. 

The research follows efforts by Stand.earth and Amazon Watch to stop European lenders from financing crude oil-related trade transactions in the region. 

In a January statement, the duo welcomed news that BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and ING had confirmed in writing that no new transactions would be accepted that involve the sale of Amazon-origin oil. It said the trio had previously been responsible for financing US imports worth US$5.5bn over the previous decade. 

The statement followed an investigation the previous year that found BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, ING, Rabobank, UBS and Natixis had facilitated 85% of all bank-financed trade linked to Amazon oil “despite having policies on advancing human rights, sustainability, and climate change”.