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Oil spill affects indigenous communities
Latinamerica Press
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People’s livelihoods and native Amazon flora and fauna are at risk.

Just a month after a second oil spill occurred in northeastern Peru, the government declared a state of emergency in 16 native communities in the district of Morona, in the Loreto department. The rupture of a pipe in the northern branch of the North Peruvian pipeline, owned by state oil company Petroperú, caused more than 3,000 barrels of oil to spill on Jan. 25 and Feb. 3. These events polluted the Chiriaco and Morona rivers, tributaries of the Marañón river, one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon.

Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal blamed the spills on the deterioration of the pipeline and announced that the company will be fined 59.2 million soles (US$17 million). Since 2011 there have been about 20 emergencies due to flaws in the pipeline.

However, indigenous communities have claimed that, beyond fines imposed by the Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (OEFA) to Petroperú, the state should offer civil damages to affected communities.

“They are fining among themselves. What are they going to fine the company for? Will they [the OEFA] suffer from the damage? Those who have been hurt are those who live there. Their crops, their water streams, their environments have been damaged,” said Marcial Mudarra, president of the Regional Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of San Lorenzo (CORPI), one of the areas affected by the spill.

The pipeline, which transports oil extracted from the Peruvian Amazon region along 854 km (530 miles) to the Bayóvar terminal on the north coast, was built in the ‘70s.

Germán Velásquez, President of Petroperú, said that the company immediately activated its contingency plan.

“I have verified that we are carrying out repair work through a specialized and systematized technological process that takes into consideration the environment of the area and adverse weather conditions that are recorded,” he said.

Insufficient remediation
According to Velásquez, the company is using the protocol for such situations and relying on specialized personnel who “place a clip at the rupture point in order to prevent further oil leaking. Once the clip is in place, work begins to consolidate the spilled oil in containment bins. Once the oil is confined in ‘artificial pools’ that are created to confine the oil, they proceed to collect it”.

However, Edwin Montenegro, president of the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Amazon (ORPIAN), told the press that Petroperú offered 10 soles ($2.8) for each bucket of oil collected to the inhabitants of the area.

“A total of 200 people are working [collecting oil], including children who do not realize how toxic oil is for their bodies,” he said. “Petroperú is more concerned about recovering the spilled oil that in cleaning the affected area and assisting communities whose primary water source is now contaminated.”

Reports from the Ministry of Health show that 120 children and 490 adults were in contact with petroleum and many have reported headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and skin irritation.

The spills have also put at risk the livelihoods of the communities. Montenegro indicated that the communities near the rivers “sell bananas. The bananas are now totally damaged. Where are the people going to sell them? No one will want to buy banana there. Everything is contaminated.”

Scientific American magazine warned that “spills could also exacerbate the situation at several protected areas that have been contaminated with oil in recent years, such as the Pacaya Samiria Nature Reserve, one of the largest in Peru. Despite the reserve’s status, extractive activities in Peru are only banned in national parks, the highest category of protection.”

On Mar. 1, Petroperú informed that has hired the Finnish company Larsen Marine Oil Recovery to help with the remediation of the spills. According to Pulgar Vidal, restoring the flora and fauna of the affected areas will take a year.

Tony Mori, Peruvian botanical specialist on Amazonian flora and vegetation, considers that the remediation will not be enough to reverse the damage.

“Situations like this tend to destroy natural landscapes completely and alter basic processes in plants, which affects the wildlife that depends on plants as a food source,” he told Scientific American. — Latinamerica Press.

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