After three serious oil spills in the Amazon rainforest since the end of January, Peru’s Ministry of Health has declared a 90-day water quality emergency.
All three oil spills occurred at different points along the Northern Peruvian Pipeline, which is operated by the state-owned oil firm Petroperú.
Dates and locations of the three consecutive oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon
- January 25, Bagua province, Amazonas region
- February 3, Datem del Marañon province, Loreto region
- February 17 Jaén province, Cajamarca region
— Marco Arana Zegarra (@vozdelatierra) February 19, 2016
Thousands of barrels of toxic crude oil in the Amazon
According to Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, each of the first two spills released 2,000 barrels of crude oil, contaminating local waterways. An EFE report puts the amount of oil leaked during the first spill at between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels before Petroperú repaired the damage to the pipeline. However, the national oil company did not indicate how much crude actually leaked in the emergency reports that it submitted to Peru’s Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA).
After the third spill, Petroperú was fined a maximum penalty of 12,640,000 Peruvian Nuevo Sols ($3.6 million) for its failure to maintain the pipeline.
Indigenous people at risk: A familiar story
Indigenous rights organization Survival International condemned the latest pipeline leaks as part of a tragic history of gas and oil spills in the Amazon rainforest:
More than 70 percent of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased by the government to oil companies. Many of these leases are inhabited by indigenous people. These projects not only open up previously remote areas to outsiders, such as loggers and colonists, but destroy the ecosystem for indigenous peoples.
Edwin Montenegro, who is the President of ORPIAN-P, the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon of Peru, claims that Petroperú has been exploiting indigenous workers, including children, to clean up spilled crude. Montenegro says that the workers, who receive 10 soles or $2.85 per bucket of collected crude, are unaware of the dangers they are being exposed to.
Via Agencia EFE:
Petroperu is more concerned about recovering the lost oil than in cleaning up the affected area and providing assistance to the communities whose main water source has now been contaminated.
—Edwin Montenegro, ORPIAN-P President
— Ahora Tabasco (@AhoraTabasco) February 15, 2016
Indigenous people, while benefitting the least from the economic windfalls related to the exploitation of their traditional lands, are usually the most vulnerable to the environmental consequences of such exploitation and changes in land use. By the same token, it is the native inhabitants of the Amazon who are also its most valiant and dedicated defenders. They therefore deserve our respect, help and solidarity.