Saturday, October 01, 2016

Peru's Oil Spills

Seven oil spills have taken place in the Peruvian Amazon in 2016 alone. This is directly harming biodiversity and the livelihoods of indigenous people. The Amazon represents more than 60 percent of Peruvian territory, and is home to some 28 million people. Whether the fish in spill zones are still safe to eat, and how to get clean water, are now daily questions for inhabitants of the region.

 "Oil spills are destroying our communities," said Wilmer Chávez, president of the Interethnic Organization of Alto Pastaza-Andoas (ORIAP). "We don't even have clean water. We will keep up the fight indefinitely, using all necessary means to defend our land," he told DW. "We want the oil companies to leave our land and stop polluting our rivers. We just want to live in peace and harmony with nature, as our ancestors did," Chávez stated. Chávez said oil companies have exploited the land for 40 years, consistently damaging the environment. But the situation appears to have worsened since the beginning of 2016.

Most of these occurred across the Northern Peruvian Pipeline, in operation since 1977, which transports crude from the Peruvian Amazon to the Pacific Coast along 854 kilometers (530 miles) and is under the control of state-owned Petroperu. Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazonia have suffered the impact of oil spills and pollution for decades - more than 190 oil spills have been recorded in Peru since 1997, according to Peru's energy and mining agency. When2016’s third oil spill occurred in June - of 600 barrels - then-Minister of Environment, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, accused Petroperu of pumping crude illegally through the pipeline. The president of Petroperu was ousted, and a $3.5-million (around 3-million-euro) fine was levied. But the disaster continued: During August and September, four additional oil spills were recorded in the area. The last two occurred while thousands of indigenous people were demonstrating for withdrawal of the oil companies. Petroperu is responsible for at least five of the seven oil spills - the company has already been penalized more than $7 million. Petroperu continues to insist, however, that the oil spills were a result of extreme weather.

The amount of oil spilled 2016 in the Peruvian Amazon - less than 10,000 barrels in seven spills - is a relatively small amount, compared for instance to the 650,000 barrels of oil that have fouls parts of the Amazon of Ecuador since the 1960s.  Even though such accidents can have catastrophic impacts on the local ecosystems, biodiversity and human health, studies to evaluate the impact of oil spills in the Amazon are scarce, and the long-term consequences remain virtually unknown. A study from January 2016 by Peru's National Institute of Health showed blood lead levels in children of Amazon villages that could affect their cognitive and motor development, and cadmium and mercury higher than allowed in adults.

The government is planning to extend oil company licenses for 30 years, he said. "But once the oil is gone, what will remain for us? Our fish will be gone, our water as well," Chávez said. "We will keep fighting for our land. We are just asking for life!"