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Pristine Amazon jungle threatened by big oil firm

This month, Peru granted Mobil a deadline extension on a decision to

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Mobil may have struck black gold - natural gas that is - in one of the most unspoiled and biodiverse valleys in the Amazon. But it may neither choose nor be allowed to extract it.

Mobil has until the end of February to do more exploration and analyze data to determine whether it will release its claim on the Candamo Valley - a 350,000-acre hidden valley that is home to crystal-clean water, jaguars, pumas, tapirs, and anaconda - or whether it will hold it for future development.

The recent announcement has heightened the tension in a national debate as to whether this coveted valley should be declared a national park or remain in private hands for hydrocarbon development, and further exploration for energy resources, like oil and natural gas.

"It is not the worst news. It's gas and not petroleum, the lesser of two evils. But it's not the best news either, which would have been that they found nothing," says Daniel Winitzky, who made a television documentary about Candamo and is considered by many to be the valley's foremost defender.

The Candamo Valley, often referred to as the last jungle without humans, benefits from the natural protection of the steep mountains surrounding it and its extremely difficult river access. For the past half century there has been virtually no human presence in the valley until a consortium made up of Mobil, Exxon, and Elf, entered in 1996 to look for hydrocarbons.

"I think it is one of the most pristine ecosystems around," says biologist Carol Mitchell. "It is hard to get to and very isolated."

For these reasons, it's probably one of the last areas that's going to be utilized by people moving into the Amazon. Ms. Mitchell works for Conservation International, a US environmental organization, which was contracted by Mobil to monitor its exploration work in the area.

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