The western Amazon is one of the world's last high-biodiversity wilderness areas, characterized by extraordinary species richness and large tracts of roadless humid tropical forest. It is also home to an active hydrocarbon (oil and gas) sector, characterized by operations in extremely remote areas that require new access routes. Here, we present the first integrated analysis of the hydrocarbon sector and its associated road-building in the western Amazon.

Due to rising energy demands and abundant untapped potential, hydropower projects are rapidly increasing in the Neotropics. This is especially true in the wet and rugged Andean Amazon, where regional governments are prioritizing new hydroelectric dams as the centerpiece of long-term energy plans. However, the current planning for hydropower lacks adequate regional and basin-scale assessment of potential ecological impacts.

The threats facing Ecuador's Yasuní National Park are emblematic of those confronting the greater western Amazon, one of the world's last high-biodiversity wilderness areas. Notably, the country's second largest untapped oil reserves—called “ITT”—lie beneath an intact, remote section of the park. The conservation significance of Yasuní may weigh heavily in upcoming state-level and international decisions, including whether to develop the oil or invest in alternatives.

The western Amazon is the most biologically rich part of the Amazon basin and is home to a great diversity of indigenous ethnic groups, including some of the world's last uncontacted peoples living in voluntary isolation. Unlike the eastern Brazilian Amazon, it is still a largely intact ecosystem. Underlying this landscape are large reserves of oil and gas, many yet untapped. The growing global demand is leading to unprecedented exploration and development in the region.