It seems as though a theme of water is running through my latest posts. My last few posts focused on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Today, my focus is on Peru, specifically the waters connected to the mighty Amazon River. It is a story that appears to be getting no national attention here in America and little attention globally.
Petroperú, a state-owned petroleum company in existence for nearly fifty years, is at the center of this crisis. Just two days ago, on February 18, Peru's Ministry of Health declared a water quality emergency, stemming from two oil spills from the company's Northern Peruvian Pipeline. The first was on January 25 (in the Bagua province of the Amazonas region) and the second was on February 3 (in the Datem del Marañon province of the Loreto region). That same day, shortly after the Ministry of Health declared the water quality emergency, it was announced that a third oil spill (in the Jaén province of the Cajamarca region) was found the day before, on February 17.
That makes three oil spills in the Amazon region this year alone -- three oil spills in less than four weeks.
Petroperú has been fined the maximum under law, 12,640,000 soles (approximately US$3,600,000), which does not include the actual costs for correcting the situation. The fine is specifically for Petroperú not having the proper facilities required to maintain the pipeline. The Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental, or OEFA) says that Petroperú has to not only take measures to properly maintain existing pipelines and relative equipment, but also to formulate and implement a plan to improve protecting all surrounding areas through which the pipeline runs. While the OEFA says that the leaks were due to failures in maintaining pipelines, Petroperú maintains that they were the result of "natural causes".
Perhaps the "natural causes" included the pipeline's age, over forty years old, which would mandate regular, proper maintenance.
While the oil company gives no numbers, local leaders are stating that up to 2,000 barrels of crude oil have leaked out of the pipeline; some reports put it as high as 3,000 barrels. Results from water samples taken by the OEFA should be ready next month. The oil spill, which started in the Chiriaco River, a major tributary of the Marañon River, has spread to the Marañon. Excessive rainfall causing the waters to rise about barriers put in place by Petroperú resulted in the oil spill spreading.
It has been estimated that the damage to the water, the land, and wildlife will take approximately a year to correct itself after human cleanup efforts. An ongoing problem is to the indigenous peoples who live in the areas of affected water. If the water is undrinkable, any wildlife who drink the water, as well as the fish in the water, will die. If the wildlife dies and is poisoned, that is less food for people to eat. If you cannot use water for farming, you cannot grow crops, resulting in less food and herbs than can be harvested. If you cannot bathe in the water, personal hygiene levels begin to drop, increasing the likelihood of disease. If you cannot drink the water, the body does not get one of its most basic needs, and so on. What you get are scenes like these:
Petroperú's troubles with their Northern Peruvian Pipeline are nothing recent. Two years ago, the same pipeline had five breaks in it over the course of roughly six months. There have been more prior to that, but damages of the Peruvian and specifically Amazonian ecosystems from oil drilling and pumping (and previously bolstered by the government) have occurred since the 1970s. It does make one wonder if, as the projections go, it takes up to a year for the environment to recover, how long have decades of these events affected the environment over the long haul? Even if the projections are for the immediately-affected areas, water does travel, so the point of a spill can be marked, but its effects, if not contained, go far beyond that point.
Last week, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala stated, "We can't have this uncertainty that a breach can occur at any time. There needs to be maintenance work and monitoring of the pipeline." How true! In the search for oil, there is, indeed, much uncertainty, as proven time and time again in various parts of the world. This is why so many individuals and groups are against drilling in sensitive areas (i.e. off-shore from coastal towns, the Alaskan Arctic Refuge). There is, and has been, more than enough good reason to oppose it.
There is, in fact, only one certainty at this point: profits over protection guarantees that these kinds of environmental disasters will continue unless some far-reaching, serious changes are put in place and vigorously enforced.