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Residents of the Peruvian Amazon Denounce Oil Spills Contaminating Local Rivers

Captura de pantalla de video sobre el desastre ecológico en la Amazonía peruana. Crédito: Youtube/Onias flores cueva

Screenshot from a video about the ecological disaster in the Peruvian Amazon. Credit: YouTube/Onias flores cueva

This post was originally published on Juan Arellano's blog Globalizado.

In a new case of environmental contamination in the Peruvian Amazon, news broke on January 26 that a oil spill had occurred the previous day, caused by a breach in the Northern Peruvian Pipeline in a location near the village of Chiriaco, in the Imaza district in Bagua Province. The spill was denounced by members of a local indigenous community.

On January 29, the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA, for its name in Spanish) announced its inspections had discovered that the spill had impacted cocoa plantations and the Inayo brook, a tributary of the Marañón River. It also noted that Petroperú, the pipeline operator, had recovered 150 barrels of emulsified crude oil from the Inayo River Basin.

Members of the indigenous communities in the area, represented by the Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the Northern Peruvian Amazon (ORPIAN, for its name in Spanish), declared that they would file a report against Petroperú, as the spill put the communities’ lives at risk and caused the death of fish in Inayo brook, and the company failed to prevent the oil from reaching the Chiriaco River.

#Amazon: oil spill affected agricultural lands and tributaries of the Marañón River

In the days that followed, as torrential rains fell in the region, the situation worsened as the oil spread to other more important rivers.

Liters and liters of oil were flowing through the Chiriaco River toward the Marañón.

The satirical news site El Panfleto Perú posted very real video of the spill on Facebook.

But this was not the only incident. Residents of Puerto Alegría and Santa Rosa in Datem del Marañón province, in the Loreto region, spoke out on February 3 about a spill caused by a lightning strike to the pipeline. They claim that the spill has affected a surface area of 3 kilometres of the Morona River, with a thickness of 15 centimetres, and that it will affect some 3,500 people in the area.

Given that the spills both originate from the Northern Peruvian Pipeline operated by Petroperú, blame has fallen on the state company, although it has indicated in various statements that it has fulfilled its responsibilities regarding the maintenance of the pipeline, and that the breaches were due to natural causes (landslides).

The Ministry of the Environment will severely penalise Petroperú for the oil spill in the Amazon https://t.co/aMqrz10wAb from peru21pe

#OilSpill #howmuchlonger (!) From El Comercio

However, the announcement that Petroperú, which is state-owned, will be fined 60 million soles, some 17 million US dollars, was also criticised:

Tweet from Pablo Cesar Revilla: @coyotegris @Cuarto_Poder awful management… Will Petro-Perú be fined? State against State?

Tweet from luis thais diaz: In addition to a fine, @petroperu_sa should clean up the spill and its management, the president and board of directors should be fired!

Image: Environment Minister Pulgar Vidal states that OEFA will impose a financial penalty on Petroperú for contaminating rivers in the Amazon with crude oil.

Won't this money come from the taxes that all Peruvians pay? Will none of the Petroperú officials involved in this crime against the environment resign?

So with money that belongs to all Peruvians we will pay 59 million soles for the inefficiency and malicious actions of the Ministry of Energy and Mining officials whose juicy salaries will not be affected.

How many schools and medical centres could be built with this money that Petroperú will have to spend for contamination?

Tweet: Incredible! Petroperú contaminates rivers in the Amazon and the 59 million sol fine will be paid by all of us Peruvians

Later, as more images became available from the area, the public was able to witness the gravity of the spill. Authorities in the affected villages asked for a public health emergency to be declared, as residents can no longer consume water from the contaminated rivers. It is estimated that some 2,000 barrels of oil have been spilled and that 8,000 people have been affected, as well as their agricultural areas, in what has become the 11th significant oil spill in the Peruvian Amazon since 2010.

Filmmaker Fernando Valdivia commented on Facebook that these oils spills have been happening continuously for many years. As proof he linked to a video from 2009 where in which a vice energy and mines minister says that these spills are a common occurrence. Valdivia added:

los derrames son PERMANENTES. Lo que ocurre es que se presta atención a los más grandes y -sobre todo- VISIBLES. Reducir la situación a los hechos recientes es relativizar el problema. Incluso el año 1982 la serie documental COUSTEAU en el Amazonas (de Jackes Yves Cousteau) dedicó un capítulo al tema del oleoducto. El 2007 el productor de la serie, Jean Michael Cousteau retomó el tema y lo que descubrimos (fui el encargado de esa parte de la filmación) es que en vez de mejorar, se había empeorado la situación, principalmente por las amenazas territoriales. Hoy, 8 [años] después, ya es un desastre…

Spills are PERMANENT. What is happening is that attention is paid to the biggest and — above all — most VISIBLE. Reducing the situation to recent events is to play down the problem. As far back as 1982 the documentary series COUSTEAU in the Amazon (with Jackes Yves Cousteau) dedicated an episode to the pipeline. In 2007 the producer of the series, Jean Michael Cousteau, took the matter up again, and what we discovered (I was in charge of this part of the filming) is that instead of improving, the situation had worsened, especially because of territorial threats. Today, 8 [years] later, it has become a disaster…

Facebook user Buda de Nieve reflected on these events in the context of Peru's upcoming elections in April:

Por un lado, en el “Perú oficial”, los candidatos hablan de progreso, TLCs y desarrollo. Al mismo tiempo, en la siempre olvidada selva peruana (qué casualidad, justamente en Bagua), hace días que los ríos están cubiertos de petróleo, cientos de personas están respirando y varios animales vienen muriendo por la contaminación ocasionada por un derrame de petróleo. La próxima vez que un candidato hable de lo importante del “desarrollo”, piensa qué tipo de desarrollo queremos. ¿Queremos ser un país “más rico” a como dé lugar […] o queremos ser un país sostenible? De esto también trata esta elección.

On the one hand, in “official Peru”, the candidates talk about progress, free trade agreements and development. At the same time, in the ever forgotten Peruvian jungle (what a coincidence, in Bagua), the rivers have been covered in petrol for days, hundreds of people are breathing and many animals are dying from the contamination caused by an oil spill. Next time a candidate talks about the importance of “development”, think about what type of development we want. Do we want to be a “richer” country, whatever it takes […] or do we want to be a sustainable country? This is also what the election is about.

Meanwhile, the NGO DAR argued that the corrective measures imposed by Law Number 30230 (the Investment Promotion Law) are not sufficient to avoid environmental contamination, as they do not encourage its prevention nor the fulfillment of environmental obligations by companies.

creemos que estos hechos son consecuencia directa de mantener un enfoque que busca promover inversiones a costa de debilitar estándares ambientales por considerarse obstáculos al crecimiento económico. Nuevamente se demuestra en los hechos que esta lógica, aunque puede viabilizar nuevos proyectos en el corto plazo –generando puestos de trabajo y renta–, y mediano plazo, trae mayores perjuicios económicos, sociales y ambientales.

we believe that these events are a direct consequence of maintaining a focus that seeks to promote investment at the expense of weakening environmental standards, which are considered obstacles to economic growth. Once again the events demonstrate that this logic, although it can make new projects viable in the short term — generating jobs and income — and medium term, it brings greater economic, social and environmental damage.

So far the cleanup operation continues while the communities in the Morono River Basin continue to demand that Petroperú immediately provide water and food for the duration of the cleanup, and that it fulfill its obligations to provide adequate protective gear to the people who are working on the cleanup in the affected areas. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has ordered the declaration of a health emergency in one of the affected areas in the Loreto region.

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