Oil: Hannibal in the Andes

It is a truism that oil companies will go almost anywhere to find oil—and the jungles of Colombia are no exception. In 1963, after 15 years of geological surveys, Texaco discovered oil in the wilds of Putumayo on the Ecuadorian border. The find was among the world's richest; the location was one of the world's worst.

Texaco's 4,000,000-acre claim is carpeted with thick jungle fed by a 200-inch annual rainfall. As one engineer puts it: "Five hours without rain is a dry season." To make matters worse, the Orito field in Putumayo is 193 miles from the Pacific port of Tumaco,...

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