Bolivia Energy and Environment Facts

Natural resources, energy and environment

Bolivia has large assets on natural gas, oil and minerals. Silver and tin have historically been central to the economy, but nowadays natural gas is the most important raw material.

Oil reserves are also relatively large, but oil exports are significantly smaller than natural gas exports. The gas accounts for one third of exports, while the minerals together account for half.

  • COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Bolivia with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.

Large gas deposits have been made since 1996 and gas exports have risen sharply since 1999, when a new pipeline to Brazil was commissioned.

Bolivia has long been importing fuel products, paying market prices and subsequently subsidizing the goods on the domestic market at a cost to the state of over a billion US dollars a year. Former President Evo Morales’s failed attempt to abolish subsidies in 2010 triggered a popular revolt (see Modern History). The subsidies are now gradually reduced.

The gas industry has contributed to a large part of the foreign investment in Bolivia, but the political turmoil in the first decade of the 21st century (see Modern history) reduced the willingness to invest. A new law that was passed in 2005 meant increased taxes and fees for the foreign companies, which announced that they would freeze their investments.

  • Abbreviationfinder: A popular acronym site in the world covering abbreviation for each country. For example, BO stands for Bolivia. Visit itypeusa for more information about Bolivia.

When President Morales took office in 2006, the gas industry was nationalized, which was taken over by the state company YPFB (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos). Nationalization took place by allowing the military to take control of the oil and gas fields. Morales ordered Brazilian energy giant Petrobras and other foreign companies to channel future sales through YPFB. The companies were given 180 days to renegotiate their contracts or leave the country. At the same time, the government promised that production and exports would continue. Several large international oil and gas companies agreed to enter into new agreements.

Morales had taken the opportunity to nationalize the energy sector as gas and oil prices rose in the market. He wanted to secure good income for the Treasury in order to realize the social initiatives he promised, including reducing poverty (see Social conditions).

Bolivia has large assets of a variety of metals. The most important today are zinc, silver and lead. Tin and gold are also broken. Mining has been important since silver was discovered in Potosí in the 16th century (see Older history). During the 1900s, Bolivia was a major tin exporter, but production ceased almost entirely in 1985 because of the price of tin on the world market. The Comibol Mining Company (Corporación Minera de Bolivia), which had been formed during the nationalization of mines after the 1952 revolution, was effectively closed down. The decline in tin mining was partly offset by increased extraction of gold, silver and zinc.

During the first year of the 21st century, the mining industry experienced a renaissance due to the sharp rise in prices. Silver and tin are now important export goods again. Most of the mining is done under private management, by both large companies and individual workers in cooperatives. During Morale’s reign, Comibol also gained new life. Mining is often carried out using primitive methods and in miserable working conditions.

Bolivia also has large assets of tungsten, antimony, lead, bismuth and iron ore. In the salt fields on the high plateau there are large reserves of lithium. This could mean that Bolivia is sitting on a potential new “gold mine” – lithium batteries for climate-smart electric cars are expected to become a bestseller worldwide.

The supply of oil and natural gas makes Bolivia self-sufficient in the energy field, with the exception of diesel imports. More than half of the electricity used in the country is extracted from natural gas, the rest is mainly produced from hydropower.


Energy use per person

789 kilos of oil equivalent (2014)

Electricity consumption per person

753 kWh, kWh (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions in total

20 411 thousand tonnes (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant

1.9 tons (2014)

The share of energy from renewable sources

17.5 percent (2015)



Relations with the United States are restored

Diplomatic relations with the US are resumed after being interrupted since 2008 (see Foreign Policy and Defense).


Morales backs on road construction in the Amazon

President Morales decides not to implement the controversial road construction previously laid on ice (see August 2011 and September 2011).

Judging entries are added in general elections

For the first time, members of four of the country’s highest courts, including the highest court and the Constitutional Court, are elected by the people in general elections. This is done in accordance with the Constitution of 2009 (see Political system). Half of the candidates are women and many belong to the indigenous population. The opposition calls for an election boycott because it believes that the elections to the courts lead to the judicial system being politicized. About 60 percent of voters vote blankly or not at all.


Political crisis around contentious road construction

The road construction in Tipnis (see August 2011) is developing into an acute political crisis. The protest march is stopped and the protesters are dispersed under tumultuous forms by around 500 police officers equipped with tear gas and batons. An infant dies of tear gas. Morales promises a referendum on the road construction but soon announces that the project is on ice. The Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior and others resign in protest or after being appointed to order the police operation. In La Paz, tens of thousands are protesting against the road construction and the hard-handed police operation.


Seven convicted for “October Massacre” 2003

The Supreme Court sentenced five high-ranking soldiers to between 10 and 15 years in prison for genocide in connection with the so-called October massacre in 2003 (see Modern History). Two former ministers are sentenced at the same time to three years in prison for their roles in the strike that cost more than 60 people their lives.

Protest against road construction in the Amazon

Hundreds of indigenous people in the Amazon begin a 50-mile protest march against a road construction through the rainforest in the Isiboro-Sécure Indian and Nature Reserve (called Tipnis). The protesters believe that the road threatens their ancient land areas, and other critics say the construction leads to illegal settlements and logging. The protest is a political problem for President Morales, who claims to protect the rights and protection of indigenous peoples. The new route, which has already begun, will go from the Amazon in Brazil through Bolivia to ports on the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile.


New law increases state control

A new law for telecommunications strengthens the state’s control over the etheric media and is met by harsh criticism from the private media companies, which are largely opposed to President Morale’s policy.


Iran’s defense minister expelled

Iran’s defense minister is invited to Bolivia but turns out to be wanted in Argentina – and by Interpol – suspected of the attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, when 85 people were killed. The Bolivia government apologizes and expels the minister from the country.

Governor is sentenced to house arrest

Governor Ernesto Suárez in the opposition-controlled Department of Beni is placed under house arrest, charged with embezzlement, abuse of power and financial crimes against the state. However, he will not be suspended from his post, as the colleague in Tarija became (see December 2010). Harsh criticism, even from an international perspective, has been directed at the deposition of the governor of Tarija.


Trade union protests result in wage increases

After protests and strikes, the national organization COB and the government agree on wage increases for health care workers, teachers, military and police. The protests have been the most extensive since Morales took office in 2006.


Dispute with Chile to international court

President Evo Morales announces that the government intends to refer the dispute with Chile to international courts to assert Bolivia’s right to free access to the sea (see Foreign Policy and Defense).


Chile’s Foreign Minister on a visit

Chile’s foreign minister visits Bolivia, the first visit of its kind in over half a century. During the visit, talks about Bolivia’s demands for a land corridor to the Pacific are held.

People in protest after price increases

Food shortages and sharp price increases for basic foods cause violent demonstrations.

Ex-police chief arrested with cocaine

A former head of the Ministry of the Interior’s drug fight, René Sanabria, is arrested in Panama with 60 kilos of cocaine. He is later deported to the United States where he is eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison for cocaine smuggling.


Record low support for Morales

President Evo Morale’s popularity figures reach a record low level after the attempt to scrap fuel subsidies (see December 2010). Only 30 percent of those polled say they support the president. Morales rejects demands from the national organization COB, among other things that certain ministers should resign and on a higher increase in the minimum wage than the government has proposed. COB has traditionally been Morale’s ally but led the protests against the fuel price hikes in December 2010.

Bolivia Energy and Environment Facts

About the author