Ecuador: Oil spill in Amazon rainforest 'could have been avoided'
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More than a million litres of oil spilled in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador after a pipeline ruptured on January 28. The company that manages the pipeline said it was damaged by falling rocks, brought down by erosion and heavy rain, claiming that the incident "could not have been foreseen". But our Observer says this excuse isn't enough.
The pipeline, managed by the private company OCP, is located in Ecuador, at the border of Napo and Sucumbíos provinces.
🆘#URGENTE Denunciamos un nuevo derrame de petróleo en las riberas del río Coca, al parecer NUEVAMENTE una rotura del OCP.🧵👇— Alianza de Organizaciones por los Derechos Humanos (@DDHH_Alianza) January 29, 2022
Exigimos a @RecNaturalesEC @Ambiente_Ec @OCPEcuador @DEFENSORIAEC @DDHH_Ec atención inmediata.@ecuainm_oficial @GKecuador@elcomerciocom @EFEnoticias pic.twitter.com/MhwqsTWaNw
The equivalent of 6,300 barrels of oil – more than a million litres – flowed into the nearby Coca and Napo rivers. The spill impacted up to 21,000 square metres of the Cayambe-Coca reserve, a protected area.
Imágenes de drone muestran el camino del petróleo desde la ruptura del oleoducto @OCPEcuador hacia al Río Coca, en la #Amazonía ecuatoriana.— AFrontlines_ES (@AFrontlines_ES) January 29, 2022
Ni @Ambiente_Ec, ni @RecNaturalesEC han publicado información alguna sobre la magnitud del derrame.
🎥Nicolas Mainville / @AFrontlines pic.twitter.com/dDq7Ni9hH5
'Indigenous communities live on the Coca and Napo rivers'
Our Observer is Luis Xavier Solis, a lawyer specialised in human rights issues with the Alejandro Labaka Foundation. He lives in Orellana province, which was impacted by the spill. Solis told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that he considered the spill a disaster, for local inhabitants as well as the environment.
The indigenous communities live on the Coca and Napo rivers. We're talking about 27,000 people, Quechuas. They drink the water from the rivers. They bathe in the rivers. They travel on the rivers. They eat food that comes from the rivers. And all of that has been spoiled.
#SOSDerrameAmazonia | En Toyuca, Orellana, luego del derrame de @OCPEcuador, en las palizadas hay mucho petróleo acumulado, y algunas personas siguen utilizando el río Coca por no tener más fuentes de agua sin que haya advertencia ⚠️@Ambiente_Ec @goberorellana @DDHH_Alianza pic.twitter.com/24wlbxJfUO— Fundación Alejandro Labaka (@fundacionlabaka) February 5, 2022
In Ecuador, two pipelines transport oil from the Amazon to the Pacific coast: one managed by OCP, a private Ecuadorian company, and the other by PetroEcuador, a public company.
A pipeline in a high-risk environment
On January 28, OCP said that its pipeline had been damaged by falling rocks in an incident that "could not have been foreseen".
However, oil transit had been suspended in the area in December 2021, due to the soil erosion that OCP said caused the problem. Both OCP and PetroEcuador had built diversions into their pipelines.
Luis Xavier Solis said:
We have repeatedly said that the leak on January 28 was foreseeable, and that it could even have been avoided. There have been several warnings from scientists and organisations like ours that we cannot continue to have a pipeline on the banks of a river, and in an area so exposed to landslides and rock falls, and so close to a volcano. These warnings were ignored by the Ecuadorian state and by private companies, which led to this new leak.
Hundreds of oil spills in recent years
Plus, there have been other oil spills in the area in the past, of varying degrees of severity. In April 2020, both Ecuadorian pipelines were damaged in the same place, leading to more than 15,000 barrels of oil being spilled. In May 2013, the equivalent of 11,000 barrels were spilled a few kilometres farther away. The equivalent of about 14,000 barrels were spilled in the same location in February 2009.
These aren't the only cases – various sources say that hundreds of oil spills have occurred in Ecuador in past years.
According to the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador, "every week there are more than two oil spills in the Amazon", or more than a hundred a year. An investigation by the Ecuadorian website Plan V confirms this figure, adding that "between 2015 and June 2021, 899 oil leaks have been recorded". NGO Amazon Frontlines says: "According to the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, more than 1,169 oil leaks were officially reported between 2005 and 2015 in Ecuador, 81% of which took place in the Amazon."
Luis Xavier Solis concluded:
When a spill occurs, the companies transporting the oil always say it was due to extenuating circumstances, to show that they aren't responsible. And they always tend to minimise their own impact.